It took a while for Kiran Desai to get the mike going. Part of the problem was technical. The other, she is simply too soft spoken.
"It's like I'm kissing the mike," she protested when asked to hold the mike closer to her mouth. "This is too close for comfort."
The winner of the Man Booker prize for The Inheritance of Loss is clearly the star of the ongoing three-day Jaipur Literature Festival. An interaction with NDTV's Barkha Dutt had an audience of eager schoolchildren, curious tourists, literary bloggers and such other literary stars as Salman Rushdie, William Dalrymple and Suketu Mehta. Not surprisingly, the audience spilled out of the grand hall of the Diggi Palace, the festival venue, out onto the veranda and the lawns where a large TV was broadcasting the proceedings inside.
Kiran gets going once the mike gets going. A natural charmer, she laughs as she recounts how critics had panned her first book, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard. "They said I was selling monkeys and guavas," she says with a big grin, as if she had received the highest accolades.
But there's nothing gentle about her views. Race, she says, is an issue for her as a writer. "There's no way you can't think about it. The world may be flattening for some people. For others it's still pretty round."
Kiran says she has held on to her Indian passport. "The longer I stay in the US, the harder it is to give up my passport. I feel the need for India in my work and in my life," she says. It's a decision that has caused some amount of hardship: getting up at dawn to be grilled by visa officers and not being able to travel to some parts of the world.
Right now, of course, there is very little time for writing, says Kiran who is busy promoting Inheritance. "I enjoy the wine and the samosas," she says. "But I feel really unhappy if I don't wake up and write all day. I never have writer's block. For me, it's a way of life."
The other pitfall of success? "I'm always on display. I can't lose my temper. If I'm feeling grumpy, I can't let it show."