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Shining some light on grey areas

By October 11, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu

At the Long Night of Literatures 2018, we met four European authors and tried to understand what drives their pens

Literature is so generous a realm, it lends itself to innumerable outlets . It has triggered movements that have changed lives, by simply being written down. When one thinks of a long night of literature, one might think of multiple languages, authors, genres, and tastes, and that is exactly what it was. Long Night of Literatures 2018, an initiative supported by the European Union saw a deluge of all that and more, with authors from 10 different European countries speaking 10 languages at Insituto Cervantes in New Delhi.

We connected with four of them, with their themes, imageries, contexts and languages. What drives them all is a need to stay relevant and speak of their worlds both inside and outside in nuanced ways. Says Danish author Henriette Rostrup, “Writing is my way of being in the world and reflecting on all the things that happened to me. I like to put my characters into situations where they are taken out of their comfort zones. It is very easy to be a good person or citizen if everything just works. But what happens when you lose the ones you love, your job, or your house? I find it interesting. What you do then is not so black and white.”

In her novel, Shadows , the protagonist is a female politician. One day, on her way home, at the City Hall, she accidentally hits a boy who is crossing the street. “You ask anyone what they are going to do, they are going to inform the police first. And she decides that in her head but she drives home first. She never gets to call the police and the little boy dies. She is not a bad person but she just does a bad thing. Her life kind of crumbles,” says Rostrup.

“I like to write about women who are courageous in some sense. It concerns me to have strong role-models. I am a mother and my daughter is almost 14. I think it is hard to be in this world and not be a feminist,” adds the author.

Suneeta Peres da Costa is a Portugese national born in Sydney, to parents of Goan origin. Costa’s work, too, deals with women, alongside issues of race and injustice. “I am interested in exploiting the things that have happened that we cover up. Women and girls, feminism, and how female identity is described in cultures all are important to me,” she says. But she also wonders about the perils of social media that almost commodifies everything. “I think there is this mysterious invisibility about art. Once I become a thing that could be commodified, being the writer rather than the one who writes, I have lost something. There are very few people reviewing books in a meaningful way. There is this need to be liked which I don’t understand. Some of the most interesting characters in fiction are not likeable,” she adds.

Her novella, Saudade , is story of a young woman who is born in Angola. “Her parents are Goan Catholic brahmins who migrated in the early 60s. Choicelessness defines their decision. Set in 1961, her coming of age mirrors the coming of age of the colony to be independent. She has to decide who she is. She ends up in exile in Goa, and she has never been to India,” adds Costa. Needless to say, there have been a number of autobiographical elements that have seeped into her work.

Veronika Resslová of Czech Republic differs from all, in that she is first a visual artist before a literary person. “I started working with texts after I began to teach Czech language to foreigners. Since I was working with the space of architecture, I created installations which also involved texts,” says Resslová.

Of visual and textual forms

With a degree in Fine Arts and a specialisation in sculpture, she is also a curator. “Within visual arts, it is nothing unusual to connect with the text. The tension between visual and textual forms wasn’t that interesting anymore, after the 90s. It had thoroughly been researched. Content became more important, along with its social, political and philosophical background.”

After the War I Am; I Have Nothing More There is a text that comprises sentences taken from asylum seekers who were her students at the Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies in Prague. There are about eight sentences. “When you put together a language of so many people from different countries, it becomes a collective “person”. I did not correct those texts, they contain all mistakes. Sometimes it is easy for the native speaker to understand the content but often the mistakes shift those meanings in unpredictable directions. For the native speaker, this language is full of poetry and surprise. It is also a source of frustration, because language plays an important role in adapting to a new home. So, there is this tension in vocabulary of asylum seekers and the natives. It is expressed in this piece with the help of frequency vocabulary,” says Resslová.

French author Jean-Claude Perrier first came to India in 1981 for holidays. He was a young journalist. Since then, his sojourns became frequent, his affair developed with the subcontinent, dedicating many of his books to the Indo-French literary connection. “There is no comparison to the India from the 80s. Deep inside it is still the same but the materiality was different,” says Perrier.

He was later invited by the French embassy to travel around the French settlements in India – Pondicherry, Karaikal, Yanon, Mahe, Chandernagore – resulting in a book Dans les comptoirs de l’Inde .

Diverse bibliography

“Each time it has been a new pretext to work and cultivate my passion, and discover a different part of this country and I am never tired of it. When I went back to Chandernagore two years ago, it was so different. The country was lost but a new country is born. My bibliography is diverse with essays, novels, travel writing, etc in different directions. If you look more closely, you will see that everything is coherent.” But the writer is perhaps a little too relentless with himself too. “I feel I don’t have any imagination. I feel the world outside is more extraordinary than my poor imagination. I am more interested in real life,” he chuckles.

Over three days, LNL explored conversations and readings between authors and literature enthusiasts from the city, in English as well as their respective languages. Each author read to an audience for 20 minutes, before the latter moved on to the next one. Some of the other authors present were Gabriela Babnik (Slovenia), Claudiu M Florian (Romania), Ariane von Graffenried (Switzerland), Clemens Berger (Austria), Jesus Carrasco (Spain), and Istvan Vörös (Hungary).

Authors also visited Delhi University to interact with students on “Writing across Cultures/Writing across Boundaries”.

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