Getting Intimate ... with the author of Intimacy!
Well ... not really "intimate" ... but here's one installment from Groupie Saaz ... first appeared in Sunday Mid-day yesterday ...
One evening at the Jaipur Literature Festival, a woman journalist was startled when the cab she’d just got into stopped and two straight-backed, black-suited gentlemen climbed in.
The one next to her began to chat, saying he’d just arrived from London and was looking forward to a good night’s rest. She asked his name – and he replied, “Han-iff Ko-reshhy”.
“And what are you doing at the festival?” he asked.
“Hoping to meet Han-iff Ko-reshhy!” I simpered back, pretty much swooning at being seated next to the father – and in fact son – of The Buddha of Suburbia.
Writers are different from film stars. You can be a great fan but never recognize him even when he’s sitting next to you. “Yes, I suppose we all look alike,” he said, and we laughed.
Over the next few days, I trailed the man, eavesdropped on his conversations, and listened with proprietary satisfaction when the audience greeted him with the whoops and applause you’d give a rock star.
Hanif Kureishi sits with fretted brow, eyes closed or peering from tiny slits. “Waiting for an idea,” he said to a journalist. “Of course there’s nothing you can do to GET an idea! You just have to wait! That’s why I’m frowning most of the time!” There’s a perpetual impatience about him, and he’s constantly listening with critical ear, characteristic of the way he writes. When someone in the audience asked, “Do you remember the pain of circumcision”, he replied, eyes still closed but eyeball visibly rolling upwards in longsuffering disbelief, “I’ve not had so much interest in my genitals for a long time.”
How central is London as a backdrop to your stories?
I’m fascinated by the city. I’m a local writer, not like Kafka or Beckett. I write about the clothes, the politics, the language and I don’t go out of my way to research things. I just look out of a window and see something going on and write about it.
How has the immigrant experience changed?
In the old days it was a really big deal to be an immigrant. People looked at you as if you were from the moon. Now things are different. I haven’t seen a white English person in West London for years. My kids consider themselves entirely British. The thing that really affects people’s lives is the crash of the economy. People are concerned about housing, unemployment and what their future is going to be like.
Do your children write?
No, and they’ve never read a book in their lives! None of them! They consider reading books a very old-fashioned thing to do, something people did before they had PlayStations. They think it’s completely idiotic that anybody would be interested in one of my books.
Why did you agree to write the screenplay for White Tiger?
The money, I needed it to pay the school fees. But I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t enjoyed the book. Films about India are popular these days. A lot of Indians are writing books. Along with IT, Indian novel writing seems to me to be the primary brewing industry in the third world. And that seems to me a wonderful thing too. A culture, a literature survives, because there are new voices speaking into it. You can’t just read Dickens and Henry James forever.
Besides White Tiger I’m writing some short fiction. But it’s no good asking me what I’m doing, I don’t know. I‘m writing to find out.
What is your relationship with India and with Pakistan?
If I have any relationship with them it’s through the stories I heard from my dad and my cousins about these places I don’t know much about. I travel to India sometimes, I like it here. I haven’t been to Pakistan for a long time. I can’t face it; it’s a depressing place, rather dangerous.
What is it about you that makes you write with so much sensitivity and accuracy?
It’s talent! I think if you’re a writer or a painter or a poet, its talent that lets you convert something about the world into words. But it’s something you develop, by practicing. You have to learn to be a writer, to learn that this works and that doesn’t, which you can do by doing it a lot and working with other people.