Monday, December 04, 2006

Christopher Rollason Reviews With Krishna's Eyes

Back in June, I took a trip out to Cordoba, Spain, for a day long event on Indian Writing in English. The conference was organised by the India-fanatic and literary critic, Antonia Navarro Tejero who has written extensively and passionately on Gita Hariharan and Arundhati Roy. She was also responsible for warmly and lavishly hosting us, with flamenco shows and impromptu guitar concerts.

The Delhi-based Indian author Manju Kapoor was there along with Christopher Rollason, an astute critic with impeccable catholicity of views.

My own work was discussed by Eva Gonzales de Lucas, a dear friend and colleague from my years at School of Languages at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. I must confess that I am always discomfitted by any academically inclined discussion of my book. And yet, Eva's critique of my novels was interesting and illuminating.

I have always considered Cordoba a fascinating, magical place. On my first visit, back in the 1990s, I wandered through the city in grueling heat trying to find the source of a plaintive flute that rose above its white walls. The streets had been empty and it took me nearly an hour of wandering in circles before stumbling upon a man playing the flute. A donkey stood morosely next to him and couple of dogs lay at his feet. In his floppy trousers and esparadilles, his melancholy eyes drooping under heavy brows, the flute-player was an odd anachronistic yet deeply romantic image of Spain. I took a phote - aah, we tourists! - and then we spoke for some time. He was a "gitano" - a gypsy and curious about my "Indianness." We parted good friends, but that was the only social exchange I experience on what was necessarily a solitary adventure.

This time around Cordoba was full of social activity - dinners, drinks, lunches, and of course the lively conference discussions.

Christopher and I got talking at the flamenco show on the first evening - finding many shared interests. His lovely wife Ileana shares her name with a very dear friend who has been long lost to me, because of our many travels and adventures. And yet, just her name evoked nostalgia for another time, another place. And indeed an instant affection.

After the conference, Christopher and I stayed in touch, exchanging emails, photographs and discussions about books. He passed through London one afternoon and we caught up over lunch that extended far into the afternoon (A shared passion for Indian food was not the least of the cements).

Christopher didn't know my writing but was keen to read my work. He began - perhaps with trepidation - my new novel, With Krishna's Eyes (Rupa Publications, 2006). And then he suggested that he would review it for one of the many literary journals he writes for and/or edits as well as for his blog. Aware of Christopher's earlier work, I was of course excited and nervous about the review - if only because it would be tremendously insightful and far-ranging.

Yet before the review could be written - a stranger event linked us. I went to a gathering of book lovers one afternoon at the Kenwood House one afternoon. I had been invited by a new acquaintance and being new to London, looked forward to meeting new people. Midway through the afternoon, a man introduced himself to me - he was Christopher's brother, John!

The universe is indeed a small place!

I was tremendously in demand after that discovery. Apparently I was the only person in the gathering who had met John's "fabled" brother and sister-in-law! Others - all of whom have known John for many years - had heard much about Christopher and Ileana, but had never met them.

Now we are tied together with fragile threads of memory, family, shared love for the written word and fascination for India. And all of it reminds me that London - more than any other city in the world - is not so different from Delhi!

In his review of my novel, Christopher talks of Poe and the idea of the "Indian Gothic." It is an intriguing and surprising idea for me. But perhaps, given the strange twists of our tale thus far, I should have expected it.

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