EK THI DOYENNE (Once upon a time there was a doyenne)
(Legendary writer Anita Desai and daughter, Booker Prize winner, Kiran Desai, together in public conversation, for the first time ever)
At noon, on 7th December, 2012, at the Times Literary Carnival, a sense of excitement hung in the air as an eager audience thronged the Aditya Birla Hall of Mehboob Studio. The legendary novelist Anita Desai and her daughter, the Booker Prize winner, Kiran Desai were together on the same stage for the first time ever while Chiki Sarkar of Penguin India, adroitly steered the conversation to throw light on the life of two beautiful minds living together.
So, how much more fabulous can it get when two writers of great caliber, a study in opposites with their differences in age, looks, style of writing and even their method of working, tell us they are companions in solitude when they are writing.
Anita Desai is soft -spoken and her words flow out in a gentle stream that often miss the microphone but wrap themselves around us in a warm cozy embrace. On the other hand, Kiran Desai, passionate, whimsy and as unexpected as her writing, often ends her sentences abruptly, the words as awkward as a dancer caught mid-stage in the glare of the spotlight that did not turn off when the dance ended.
It can be strange to experience life with a mother and in her writings recognize those moments and marvel at the way that life has been woven into her stories, which is what Kiran did when she read Anita’s works. Anita, for whom writing has been a natural progression rather than something she planned, said her life made sense only when it was put down on paper. Immigration and re-settling away from one’s roots has been the common undertone in both their lives. While a young 15-year-old Kiran traversed a lonely path in a foreign country (and which is why most of her characters are solitary types), Anita’s journey has been back towards her parent’s era.
Along with the angst has come some benefits too. Having an award-winning writer as your first reader can be a great advantage and Kiran Desai agrees. Anita Desai has, on her part, always given her first draft (revised at least four to five times) to a neutral person such as an editor for feedback and never to a friend or family member.
Ah, yes, dear readers who are also writers, you are not forgotten. You ask, what message is there for us?
Anita Desai says,“Read a LOT. Commit to writing and make writing a daily habit.”
‘Be lonely and be alone’ are the best conditions for writing. One’s social life might have to be curtailed for the sake of writing but it does not mean you stop living. All material for the writing is out there. “Be sharp in your observations; pick out the significant to use in your writing,” said Anita Desai.
“You need to decide whether you have the right to the solitude you need in order to write.” Thought-provoking statement, indeed, by Anita Desai.
All warm and fuzzy feelings almost gave way to a Koffee with Karan moment when someone from the audience asked if they ever felt jealous of each other?
No-one must have been very surprised when Anita Desai replied,” I don’t think of it as rivalry. The world is richer for so many voices.”
I’m so looking forward to Times Lit Carnival 2013.
(Anita Desai received the first Times of India Lifetime Achievement Award at Times Lit Carn).