Jaipur Diary – Orhan Pamuk’s Girlfriend Kiran Desai on Mother Anita
Her mama’s girl.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Instead of talking about boyfriend Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer who too is attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, novelist Kiran Desai talked – in great detail – about her mother, novelist Anita Desai. “The way she sits, the way she talks, and the way she writes is like a devoted writer,” Ms Desai said, sitting cross-legged in thigh-high skirt, large ear danglers and bright red lipstick. Mr Pamuk was sitting in the crowd.
Having down a glass of wine just before the session, Ms Desai continued on her mother: “She is extraordinarily disciplined. The silence in her house is like a writer’s silence, the light in her drawing room is like a writer’s light. When I was growing up in Delhi, her happiest moment would come when we would be leaving for the school. Mother would immediately go to the desk where she would write next to her dog, the creature she loved most in the family.”
Mr Pamuk’s mention did come and Ms Desai’s eyebrows did quiver but the moderator’s query wouldn’t have excited a gossipmonger. While Ms Desai’s Turkish friend lived a large part of life at a same house in Istanbul, she moved from Delhi to Kalimpong (in West Bengal) to UK to the US. “Most of us are constantly moving and living fragmented lives and one way to make a sense of it is to write a novel.”
Working on her third novel, Ms Desai would not commit when it would finish. “I’m slow and lazy,” she said as her audience laughed. The venue was a full house. “My model reader is a person who chooses a book over the real life.” After she won the Booker prize, her book The Inheritance of Loss was burned in Kalimpong where the novel was partly set. “I was depressed but I also realised that I had suddenly become worth a fight. A novel is not just a novel. It is also read as a representation of an entire community. Ideally, as a writer, you want to be fearless to get something good and that’s hard.”
To Ms Desai, the most disastrous thing that could happen to a writer is to give her Internet access. “E-mails are so distracting. I send necessary e-mails only in expensive cafes, not home. No Twitter, no Facebook for me.”
A product of many creative writing workshops, Ms Desai’s pep-talk to aspiring novelists is: “If you listen to too many criticisms, and amend your manuscript accordingly leaving everyone satisfied, your final draft will be like an advertisement. It will be useless. You should be prepared to be disliked.” Going by the applause of the Jaipur crowd, Ms Desai will have to work harder to be disliked.
Ms Desai with moderator Jai Arjun Singh
Ms Desai with boyfriend Orhan