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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Of Jackson Poker and a woman in black: An intimate evening with 13 European authors in Delhi

Audiences move from room to room, listening to authors reading to them for about 20 minutes, after which they go to the next room to listen to the next author.

more-lifestyle Updated: Oct 08, 2019 16:14 IST
Kabir Singh Bhandari
Kabir Singh Bhandari
Hindustan Times, Delhi
It’s not every day that you get to spend an evening with authors from 13 different European countries, but that’s what Long Night of LiteratureS is all about.
It’s not every day that you get to spend an evening with authors from 13 different European countries, but that’s what Long Night of LiteratureS is all about.
         

It’s not every day that you get to spend an evening with authors from 13 different European countries, but that’s what Long Night of LiteratureS is all about. Started in 2015, this initiative supported by the European Union brings together authors from across Europe to New Delhi.

Audiences move from room to room, listening to authors reading to them for about 20 minutes, after which they go to the next room to listen to the next author.

As I enter the Instituto Cervantes where the event is being held, I am handed a red card with names of all the authors and their time slots. After some time, an instrumental guitar themed Spanish song engulfs the entire floor, signaling the end of the ongoing sessions, and I make my way to room 16, where I am to be seated in a room with a bunch of other people with the Spanish author Blanca Risetra.

Hindustantimes

The lights are turned off, and Blanca begins by introducing herself and then reads from one of her books by a table lamp. During the interaction round, as one of the attendees asks her what she thinks about how Spanish slang has become more popular after the Netflix series Narcos, we realize that this is going to be an interesting evening.

Blanca Risetra.
Blanca Risetra.

Next in line is the expressive Turkish author Çiler İlhan, who after reading a particularly dark and intense piece from her book Exile (2010), mentions, “I may look like a very normal person but I’m not!”

The excerpt from her book dealt with honour killings, something which I didn’t know that Turkey and India have in common. However, topics such as these are not openly discussed in Turkey, because of which she wasn’t too popular back in her home country. “When people tell me not to write about these issues, I ask them not to read my books and buy a romantic novel instead,” she says.

Çiler İlhan.
Çiler İlhan.

And then the music pervades the entire floor again, and it’s time to move on to the next room.

Swiss-Romanian essayist and novelist Dana Grigorcea reads out a chapter from her book, An Instinctive Feeling Of Innocence, describing the time when Michael Jackson had come to perform in Bucharest, where she had grown up, during his Dangerous Tour. She highlights a game which they used to play at the time called Jackson Poker. A group of friends would gather and play MJ’s music cassettes, starting the tape at a random point, and then they would have to guess which song was playing after just hearing a few seconds of it.

Dana Grigorcea reading out a chapter from her book.
Dana Grigorcea reading out a chapter from her book.

In one of the rooms, we come across Anne-Cathrine Riebnitzsky, an award-winning bestselling Danish writer, who says she has a very unusual background. Riebnitzsky had been a soldier for 10 years in Afghanistan and one of her books is about her experience there.

Anne-Cathrine Riebnitzsky.
Anne-Cathrine Riebnitzsky.

But the most unusual experience actually lies in another room which has Aleš Čermák, who does research of hybrid thinking in the field of performativity (bodily, but also mental practices). It’s dark, and as I enter it, I step over a body lying on the floor. The room is full of such characters. As I sit on the floor against the wall, I notice Čermák reading from one of his works, while a woman in black moves around the expanse of the room. Sometimes she reads his works in English and at other times shines a light on one of the attendees.

Aleš Čermák (reading from script).
Aleš Čermák (reading from script).

Then all of a sudden, I become part of the performance. She walks up to me, and we join the thumb and index fingers of our left hand. She traces a black marker over this shape, smiles and continues to traverse the rest of the room. As new attendees begin to enter the room, I make my way out, leaving Čermák and the woman in black behind.

The woman in black.
The woman in black.

During these sessions (barring the one with Čermák) , each author is asked numerous questions, and they all answer each one of them and read their portions both in English and their native language for a bit, for us to get a feel of the original text. Once the last session gets over, one realises that it would be another year before this unique concept comes back to the Capital.

The author tweets at @shadowwarior and can be reached at kabir.bhandari@htdigital.in

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First Published: Oct 08, 2019 15:58 IST

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