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My Turkish delight

In my 40 odd years, I've never met a Nobel laureate for literature. Better still, I've never been invited home to share coffee with one. As we step out on the 14th floor, my wife rings the copper doorbell. I wait. Am I the next MTV bakra? Nope. This is the real thing. Derek O'Brien writes.

india Updated: May 13, 2011 12:18 IST
Derek O'Brien

'Stop it! You seem like a schoolgirl about to meet her favourite pop star.'

My wife's words are sharp but, as usual, accurate. I wolf down lunch and am clearly nervous, hands shaking and all. I am also very excited as we drive down to the Upper West Side. The Riverside is a shimmering New York neighbourhood and when we hit the 'number 14' button in the lift — elevator, if you prefer the Americanism — of the building that is our destination, I wonder what he'll be like: stern, arrogant, hurried or just plain nice?

In my 40 odd years, I've never met a Nobel laureate for literature. Better still, I've never been invited home to share coffee with one. As we step out on the 14th floor, my wife rings the copper doorbell. I wait. Am I the next MTV bakra? Nope. This is the real thing. Kiran is gracious as ever and before I can say Alfred Nobel I've shaken hands with the literary rock star from Turkey.

Our charming hostess offers us a choice of coffee, tea and juice. I'd normally knock down a cup of coffee in under 15 minutes. This one is drunk in slow mo: 55 minutes. It gives me more time with a man whose writing has been translated into 50 languages and whose name appears on a hallowed list of literary gurus. About 100 years before him, in 1912, there was a fellow Calcuttan, Rabindranath Tagore. That's a good start to the conversation: smell the coffee, and talk Tagore to the Turk.

Orhan tells me he's visited Calcutta and India about five years ago. It's amusing listening to his tales of "too many meetings". Or: "Oh oh, I did not go all the way to Calcutta to see the movies of the great Satyajit Ray. I could have done the same sitting in Istanbul or New York." I promise his second trip will be more memorable. We could get him there in time for the Tagore Museum opening in Shantiniketan.

That's if he can fit it into his jet-set itinerary. I love his life, I tell him. Four months in heaven on the 14th floor in NYC, two months in Goa, five months at home — and what does home mean for such a global citizen? I almost wonder — in Istanbul and a month of writing anywhere he chooses.

My mother-in-law devoured My Name is Red in one week flat, I tell Orhan. Now I'm waiting to dive into Snow after she's through with it. I thank him for autographing our copy of his new book. It'll be auctioned, I promise, at the charity ball to raise funds for that splendid organisation Children's Hope. We leave with the hope of future meetings, in New York, in Calcutta and elsewhere.

As we exit, my wife taps me on the shoulder. It's the grin she's worried about; I'm so lost I could walk into a wall. What can I tell her? I'm the kid who's just had his Turkish delight.

(Derek O'Brien is a Kolkata-based quiz master and writer The views expressed by the author are personal.)