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First hand, second books

books Updated: Jan 29, 2012 19:22 IST
Indrajit Hazra, Hindustantimes
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Mohammad Hanif, fresh out of authoring his novel, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, hasn’t been feeling ‘writerly’ of late. In the session ‘Humour in Hard Times’ with fellow author-journo Manu Joseph at the Kolkata Literary Meet on Friday, he said he’s become a professional literary festival-goer.

“Over the last one month, I’ve been to four different literature festivals in India and I think it’s time to stop for a while.”

Considering that he’s written a play as well as a song (“It’s for a film a friend of mine has made and, no, I will not sing it”) since his new novel came out, lit fests don’t seem to come in the way of his work too much.

Joseph, the author of Serious Men, pondered over the subject of ‘second books’ — he’s just finished writing his, while Hanif’s Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is his second novel.

“Publishers these days make a huge deal out of debut novels. ‘Debut’ has become a big adjective on its own. It’s time that the second novel gets a similar special treatment,” he said.

Hanif, a serious man himself, dismissed Joseph’s theory that the writer has lost his ‘innocence’ when he starts writing his second book. “It’s rubbish to approach the first book writer as some kind of virgin. I thought that writing my second book would be easier than my first book. I knew how to write the book, but didn’t know what. A writer can have a good first book, a not-so-good second book. He could write shit first, second and third books.”


Later in the evening, I take both Hanif and Joseph out to Mocambo, the restaurant on Kolkata’s Park Street. Along with us is the Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka who won this year’s DSC Jaipur Literature Festival Prize for his fabulous book, Chinaman. All three authors like the low-hanging lights and red leather seats of the place (“It’s like a place where the mob hangs out” points out Karunatilaka who is now researching haunted houses in Sri Lanka for a ghost or horror novel) and over chilli prawns and alcohol, the conversation moves to the subject of dignity.

In the morning, responding to Joseph’s question about whether he had problems infusing his protagonist Alice Bhatti, a nurse, with dignity — a character Hanif’s characters are usually devoid of — the Pakistani writer had said that “dignity was overrated”.

At Mocambo, with beer cleansing one’s logic system, Hanif insisted that dignity was underrated. “Can’t I change my mind?” he said while Karunatilaka continued to ponder over whether he should crash a party being thrown at the house of author Ruchir Joshi. He skipped it and went to Someplace Else, the nearby, nightclub, to listen to bands play classic rock instead.


This was Manu Joseph’s fourth visit to Kolkata, a city that reminded him of “Madras in the 80s”. He told me whether I had noticed that “the light was different here”. For Hanif, his first time in the city, “Calcutta’s like Karachi, it’s big, full of people and has lots of Muslims”. While Joseph relished the Bengali food at his hotel (“made slightly inauthentic by my asking for appams), Hanif had a hearty biryani meal on his first day in Kolkata. (“It’s just like Karachi. Going out to eat biryani on a Friday.”)

Meanwhile, Karunatilaka was struggling to understand the notion of the phhuchka, Kolkata’s snottier, more potent version of the gol gappa. ‘Water ball’ was the best someone at the table could come up with. The subject naturally veered to the ailment of hydrosil, even as I mentally made a note of ensuring that Karunatilaka didn’t remain a phhuchka virgin for long.


If Vikram Seth in his session on Thursday pointed out that “not all books are for all readers”, London-based Pakistani writer Moni Mohsin told the audience in a session on Friday with writer Anuja Chauhan what her definition of a ‘serious reader’ was. A young ‘serious-looking’ lady had asked the author of Tender Hooks and Diary of a Social Butterfly whether ‘serious readers’ read the kind of light, social dramas she wrote. Mohsin answered with aplomb, “Anyone who starts a book and finishes it is a serious reader.” She asked the lady whether she had read her books to which the latter said that she had. “So there you go. You are a serious reader.”