Wednesday, January 15, 2014

“Anything that has to do with millions is not literary. It is a sociological event. I wonder why it is called literary,” says Ved Mehta


New Delhi: Noted author Ved Mehta is a very courteous man. He was sitting at an adjacent table at the India International Centre dining hall with his companion on Friday night. He agreed to an interview the following day. Saturday morning he gave time at 2.30 pm his room, 46, at the ICC where he was staying. He was standing when I entered the room, shakes hands and then sits down in the chair. He is in India as some of his earlier books have been released as Penguin Classics in paperback. The titles include “Face To Face” (1957), “Portrait of India” (1967), “Daddyji” (1972) and “Mahatma Gandhi And His Apostles” (1977). He is also attending the Jaipur Literary Festival.

After about 10 minutes, he apologises for falling asleep, and explains that he had been giving a series of interviews through the morning. He was leaving for Mumbai on Sunday morning. My colleagues and friends have a good laugh and say that it is my questions that must have made Mehta fall off to sleep.

Excerpts from the short interview:

Q. Do you think that with the rising popularity of Jaipur Literary Festival and others in the last 10 to 15 years, India is becoming a literary hub?

Ved Mehta: No. I mean, anything that has to do with millions is not literary. It is a sociological event. I wonder why it is called literary. Q. Do you think that with the rise of many talented writers in English, people abroad are turning to India as an important place? VM: I think that could be...English remains the centre of culture. It remains small, may be 5 per cent to 6 per cent.

Q. Many of the Indian writers have won the Booker Prize in the last 10 to 15 years. Do you think that it can be a barometer of the acceptance of India on the global cultural scene?

VM: Booker Prize is one of the literary prizes. There are prizes all over the world, in the United States, in France.

Q. Do you think that Indian writers in English feel more confident now?

VM: Yes. That may be true. But these are straws in the wind. This is a small thing in the cultural landscape. India is a vast country.

Q. In the mid-’60s you wrote “Portrait of India”. Are you tempted to do something like that now? VM: No. That was a colossal effort. It cannot be done again.

Q. Are you still intrigued by India?

VM: I know some of the Indian languages. It does not indicate anything.

Q. Do you have fond memories of New Yorker? John Cheever, the American short-story writer said in an interview that the place had the best editors, with whom one fought but who really improved the submissions.

VM: John Cheever was a great writer. I would agree with him.

Q. There is an attempt, a desire and a dream in India to do something like the New Yorker in India. Do you think it can be done?

VM: It (New Yorker) was the most astonishing cultural institution. You know you pick up the New Yorker and you will find a centre piece by James Baldwin and something on black culture. Then in the next issue, he would carry my three-part piece, “My Mother”. It was (William) Shawn’s (who became editor of the magazine in 1952) genius that kept the magazine going.

Q. Are you working on something now?

VM: I do not speak about a work until it is done. It will be speculation to talk about it.

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