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'Rushdie, in the West, has been confused with Indian writing itself, if not with India itself at times'

Amit Chaudhuri and family He looked every inch the harried father, accompanied as he was by his rather competent wife and energetic daughter. It was Amit Chaudhuri's first experience with Chat and, just as he would focus on trying to answer a question, his lively little daughter would yell for his attention. For all that, Chaudhuri quite enjoyed the experience of interacting with readers the world over. Unfortunately, he was compelled by other commitments to keep his Chat debut extremely short.

Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:13 IST)
Hi, I'm glad to be here


RVenkatesh (Mon Feb 14 19100 7:28 IST)
Why, after Tagore, no Indian has won a Noble Prize for literature?. Is it due to lack of quality writers or not enough has been done to unearth the talent spread across the country in various Indian languages ?


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:16 IST)
RVenkatesh: It's because of the the fact that the Nobel Prize committee has been very closed to non-European or non-Western writing in general. I think there have been very many great Indian writers in the past century. But it's worth remembering that some of the greatest European writers like Proust, Lawrence, Joyce, Tolstoy never got the prize. They certainly deserved it.


hellfires (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:15 IST)
Mr Chaudhuri, what do you think of Rushdie, do you think he is overrated


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:19 IST)
Hellfires: I think the problem is that Rushdie, in the West, has been confused with Indian writing itself, if not with India itself at times. So the construction of Indian writing after Rushdie has neglected the kinds of writing that are very different from the aesthetic that Rushdie represents. Which is a pity, but one can't ascribe all the blame to Rushdie himself.


ululate (Mon Feb 14 19100 7:54 IST)
To what extent is your "bengaliness" a source of inspiration to you


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:24 IST)
Amit Chaudhuri ululate: Lots of novels are based on actual experiences or real characters, but once the character is transmuted for some reason into fiction, it assumes a mythic separateness which doesn't have all that much to do with the person it was based on. So, however related to reality it might be, autobiographical fiction is never simply a confession or a revealing snapshop of reality. As for my 'Bengaliness,' I'm not even sure what that is absolutely, having grown up as I have in Bombay, with parents who are East-Bengalis who later settled in Calcutta.


coolman (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:21 IST)
Mr Amit, what different art forms do you seek inspiration from???


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:27 IST)
Coolman: Visual arts have always been important to me and painting and films among them. There is a frustrated film-maker inside me, and probably a frustrated painter as well and, at one time, before I started my first novel, when I was an undergraduate in London, I seriously toyed around with the idea of doing a course in filmmaking in Pune. However, that was not to be. Realist European painting doesn't excite me as much as frescoes and icons do and Indian paintings like miniatures and Kalighat pats.


philistine (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:25 IST)
Mr Chaudhuri, do you believe writers should be interested in politics? And should their work reflect this???


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:31 IST)
philistine: For a writer, writing about politics shouldn' t necessarily be any different from his impulse to write about an apple or a street in the town. Whatever he writes about, whether it's ideas or politics, should have inwardness and physicality. So politics is something I would write about, as long as it didn't enter my text as an issue but as a physically immediate thing.


ululate (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:20 IST)
Why is it that a great writer like R.K Narayan still does not get the recognition he deserves.


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:35 IST)
ululate: Indian critics have always sought a kind of high seriousness from writers that would almost justify what is, in their eyes, the slightly shameful activity of reading and writing novels. Since Narayan lacks that high seriousness, they suspect his importance. The other thing is that, post-Rushdie, the post-colonial novel of history and the national narrative has occupied an all important place in Indian writing in English. Since Narayan resolutely refuses to offer us these grand themes, he is neglected in the academy.


suman (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:34 IST)
Mr Amit: What do you think of the language writers. are they good? or do you agree with Salman Rushdie that Indian language wriing is not that good?


Amit Chaudhuri Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:41 IST)
Suman: Growing up in a Bengali household, albeit in Bombay, I was never left in any doubt about the achievements of Bengali literature. In fact, it was writing in English that was seen as a some what inauthentic activity. Things have come full circle, so that someone like Khushwant Singh can say that he'd never have accepted a Tagore novel if it had been submitted as a manuscript to him today, especially with writers like Amitav Ghosh being around. I, as I've been working at compiling an anthology, have been discovering again the great richness of not only Bengali but Urdu and Hindi and South Indian literatures. I think these works are not only some of the best things that have come out of India but of the world as well. Why they are neglected is another and very complex matter altogether.


sneha (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:38 IST)
Mr Chaudhuri: What do you think of calcutta as a city? do you think it is dying under commies. also, why ain't you writing a book on that old tiger of west bengal, jyoti basu who has managed to be the cm for the last god knows how many years?


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:45 IST)
Sneha: Thank you for your suggestion, I'll certainly consider it in the future. I think Calcutta is at a moment of redefinition in it's history. The Bengal Renaissance, whose last vestiges produced someone like my parents, like Jyoti Basu and even someone like me, has finally died a complete death leaving nothing in it's place. So this is a time of transition -- just as it is in India, where the Nehruvian age has come to an end -- and it remains to be seen what direction Calcutta takes.


toytrain (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:38 IST)
I found out recently much to my chagrin that someone I respected - Georg Steiner - made some very racist remarks about Indian writers in a private conversation with someone I know. Do you sense this among some well-known white critics?


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:49 IST)
toytrain: My experience with some critics in the West has been somewhat the opposite for they seem to bend over backwards in their attempt to appreciate Indian writing. I suppose that is a form of uninformed condecension that can be as difficult to take as Steiner's supposed racism. Although I have to say that I find it odd that Steiner -- a Jew who has written frequently about the suffering of the holocaust -- should make racist remarks. Maybe he was just expressing his opinion about the value of Indian writing, which he has every right to do.


toytrain (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:45 IST)
To what extent are you affected and influenced by theories of writing, literariness etc - death of the author and all that kindf of stuff. To me, it seems to have very little to do with the actually act of writing itself


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:56 IST)
toytrain: I respond to the post structuralist theories of writing you mentioned with some ambivalence. Those theories have claimed that what we call the author is a construct and are also sceptical about the capacity of works of art to portray or represent reality, leaving art no other function but a playful self-reflexivity. As a writer who believes quite deeply in the power of the word to transform our perception of everyday reality, I find the self conciousness of such theories fundamentally disagreeable.


Mr Amit Chaudhuri (Mon Feb 14 19100 8:58 IST)
I'm really sorry I have to go, it's the first time I've had an experience of this kind and I hope you will ascribe the meandering quailty of some of my answers to my innocence of this medium. But I hope to be back to do this kind of thing again.


Questions not answered by Amit Chaudhuri
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