Trust Me, I'm a Storyteller

February 12, 2009

From Delhi to devastation

Filed under: Uncategorized — roundtablewriting @ 5:37 am

Delhi was a most exhilarating experience. There is lively literary debate there about their long established canon of non-fiction, fiction and poetry, as well as modern Indian literature starting from the Bengal Renaissance; and contemporary literature at home and abroad. I met keen M.A. students of literature; most have read Australian literature and seen Australian films. I conducted a workshop at the University of Delhi for M.A. writing students and was impressed with the level of writing that the students produced in a short time span. I met students, academics, authors and poets when I spoke and read stories at the Jawaharlal Nehru University; as well as giving readings at private gatherings. The visit was supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-India Council which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I visited and stayed with Meenakshi, my co-editor, who kindly arranged the above workshops, talks, readings and rooftop literary soiree. I also stayed for a few days with Sujata, a long time friend and author. It was such a great pleasure spending time with Meenakshi and Sujata and their families. We had many engrossing conversations; we visited places of interest in Delhi and enjoyed many delicious meals together.

I also met our publisher at Picador India to discuss our forthcoming book, which was again a great pleasure and very exciting.

When my co-editor Meenakshi Bharat first proposed the idea for a collaborative volume of stories, we needed to decide on a concept for the collection. Terrorist attacks in Bali, the arrest of Dr Haneef on terrorism charges in Australia were being discussed in various media. As Meenakshi writes in the introduction to the book, ‘Fear Factor – Terror Incognito’: “This assault of the Australian imagination naturally made us marvel at the public outcry, moving us to note and rue the contrast with the Indian situation…Talking about Bali gave us grounds for a more thoughtful airing of ideas about Kashmir, Punjab, the Mumbai blasts, the terrorist threat that lurked all the time all over the country. We came to realise that somehow our concerns were similar, that there was something that bound us together.”

Contributions came from some of our best known authors from Australia and the Indian subcontinent. In her Foreword to “Fear Factor – Terror Incognito”, Yasmine Gooneratne wrote:
“This is a collection that hammers out a warning, and the reader would be obtuse who fails to hear and register its message. […]The writers in the Bharat/Rundle anthology do not offer solutions. Instead, they lead readers along the hidden paths of an unfamiliar psychology to make their own discoveries. […]there rises from the pages of this astonishing book the sound that today drowns every other concern in all but the most remote and isolated parts of the earth…”

Fictionally, the stories document the reality of phobias, curbs associated with immigration and foreigners, the fear of ‘aliens,’ even social and political antecedents to present-day terrorist activities. As the stories reveal, there is nothing new about terrorist attacks, they have occurred throughout history in almost every part of the world. Importantly, the authors do not glamorise terrorism or terrorist activities in any shape or form; rather they highlight the devastation, the after-math not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators for whom the reality of the act is often far removed from their expectations or vision. Not only do these stories reveal certain truths and give an insight but they offer a genuinely gripping read. Somehow our concerns are similar there is something that binds us together.

Nury Vittachi, a member of the judging panel of the inaugural Australia-Asia Literary Award, said of Australia’s newest and richest literary prize: “… We’re looking for a new Asia-Pacific flavour, as that is a good pointer to what the new literature will be. There’s a huge change coming very fast and this prize is giving a glimpse of that future.” [‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ November 22, 2008.]

This inaugural award was won by David Malouf, who is featured in ‘Fear Factor – Terror Incognito’. He won the award for his story collection ‘The Complete Stories’”.

I look forward to more collaborative Australia-Indo publishing ventures. The book, ‘Fear Factor—Terror Incognito’ will be published by Picador India in 2009.

I travelled to Delhi with my friend Barbara with whom I spent time seeing the many sights and attractions of Delhi, both Old Delhi and New Delhi. It seemed as if around every corner there were amazing scenes and sights. Going through the narrow streets of Old Delhi was an amazing experience, with so much to take in. New Delhi is a complete contrast with wide tree-lined avenues, public gardens, impressive architecture and great shopping. The people in Delhi are warm, friendly and helpful. I met so many charming and interesting people who told me about the history, politics, literature, society and life in general in India and Delhi in particular. More about Delhi later.

I returned from the relatively cool climate in Delhi to scorching temperatures in NSW and then the tragic bushfires in Victoria. NSW was on high alert too with bushfires burning close by. Fortunately the change in weather in eastern NSW meant it is cooler, wetter here. In Victoria the devastation is horrific and the bushfires are still burning. The Firies, mostly volunteers, all deserve medals for their dedication and perseverance in the face of the most daunting and fearful conditions. It’s difficult to comprehend what those who have suffered such great losses are going through. Donations are pouring in from all over the country and one can only hope that somehow those affected by the fires will find some comfort and assistance as they try to continue on with their lives.

Today’s Writing Tip
Choose a pair of your shoes. Think about where these shoes have taken you. Write a story or poem about a place you have been wearing this pair of shoes.

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