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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Friday, November 23, 2007


"I wasn’t sure I was going to make this. It’s only in Singapore that someone is going to say, we’ll set up an event for you an hour after you land. Everywhere else in the world, people will say we’ll set up an event for you a day after you land. Given the security issues at Heathrow and all of that, I thought the chances of this plane taking off on time are pretty remote. But I thought, we’ll see how it goes. The plane arrived on time, things went smoothly, I turned up, people showed up to listen to me and we had a fabulous evening."

That mad bunch of folks who put the talk together was a bunch of friends who love their books, they wouldn't mind a world without Kindle, the written would do. They lovingly called their book struck trio - Literatti and took their chances with this author. The critics were divided, yet Maniza Jumabhoy, Tripta Singh and yours truly had enjoyed the ride through Romesh Gunesekera's 'The Match.' Prior to that, there was the love story set in a spoiled paradise. In 'Reef', 11 year old Triton, goes to work as a houseboy. His master Mister Salgado, a marine biologist obsessed by sea, swamp and the island's disappearing reef. It is here that Triton learns to polish silver, to mix a love cake with ten eggs, and to steam the exotic parrot fish for his master's lover. As the book unfolds you meet the boy becoming a man in a world on the brink of chaos. In the closing page, of the Booker short-listed Reef, Mister Salgado warns Triton that "we are only what we remember, nothing more....all we have is the memory of what we have done or not done."

The subtle deceptions were explored in 'The Sandglass' and 'Heaven's Edge' as well. In his latest book though he moved away from the mystical, magical settings. We'd been intrigued by it. That's partly why in a moment of heaven knows what, we said yes to putting the reading together. It's only when we went over the fine print of the flight schedule that we realised that we had only an hour between Romesh's landing and reading. For the longest time, we kept more than our fingers crossed. it all fell into place, Romesh showed up, Loi Zhi Wei of Penguin Books breathed easy and
we found our perfect match.

Q : Your book ‘The Match’ is bookended with two cricket matches, but you aren’t known to be a cricket buff, are you?
A :
Don’t say that. Yes, I am a cricket fan. But I never thought I’d ever write a book that had a sport in it because I’m not a sporty sort of a person. I like cricket, I’ve played cricket when I was young. I never thought I’d end up writing a book about the sport. It’s partly because a lot of the books I’ve written had a lot to do with Sri Lanka. Some of those books have had to deal with the some of the sad aspects of Sri Lanka – the war, the violence, but amidst all of that, there has been this upbeat story and that is about Sri Lankan cricket. I’ve often wondered how I could capture that, so I tried and it worked for me. You can definitely call me a cricket enthusiast now.

Q : Cricket is huge in South Asia, during the matches it almost becomes the reason of your being. Did you sense that when you were working on the book?
A :
I’ve found it a fascinating subject. It opened a lot of things for me, a new way of looking at history, a way of looking at what has happened in the past and the way in which groups of people identify themselves. No one quite knows where it started, some would say England, others would argue strongly against it. But it is a very artistic game in many ways. What I liked about that aspect is when you look at old photographs of the sport, they are very beautifully composed photographs. They shape of people, the body language when they play a stroke, the way people watch the sport. Obviously there are great divides when a match is on. But when somebody plays a splendid shot, everybody acknowledges it. It doesn’t matter which team you are off. When a batsman makes a century, the spectators pause for the applause and for a moment, even if it is a brief the differences between the teams as is reflected in a stadium is forgotten. Those sorts of things were really interesting. It was about capturing those moments which often become bigger than the game.

Q : When you look at test cricket, it’s a long drawn game, people take their breaks, possibly even read in between?
A :
That’s what I thought as well. I remember writing a couple of stories. I tried writing some stories to try out and see if someone who isn’t interested in the sport could be drawn to it through a short story. It worked really well. I remember talking to one of the actors who acted in Lagaan. He told me its like making movies, there’s a lot of hanging around when you are watching cricket and he mentioned it, obviously in jest, ‘why don’t you write a book?’ And I thought, why not. I tried to persuade my publishers that there are lots of people who watch cricket who want to read books.

Q : Was that a tough sell?
A :
Initially, yes, but they came around and here we are.

Q : You actually drew certain parallels between writing and international level cricket.
A :
Yes, there are two things in this book. Basically, there is this boy who doesn’t know much about cricket but as a young boy he plays the sport with his friends. He is attempting to work out what this game is all about. Another mention in the book, is about the series of matches between the Sri Lankan team, the English team and the Indian team, so the other aspect of the book is that the main character of the book, Sunny, becomes a photographer in the book. There are parallels between all three actually – cricket, photography and writing because on the simplest level, I suppose a lot of people are interested in all of this. Almost everybody takes pictures, they take lots of them. Lots of people watch cricket, lots of people read books. And in all of the three, there are lots of people who would like to do it better. There are people who would like to be professional photographers, amateur cricketers who’d like to play for a team, those who are playing for a state team would like to play for a national team, and there are readers who’d like to be writers. At each level you are talking about only a tiny group of people who actually end up doing that. 11 people end up playing for Sri Lanka, for India, for Australia or any other national team. There’s only a handful of people who become professional photographers and there’s only a handful of people who end up writing books. I think it’s just very interesting to understand the number of people who are involved in this whole process.

Q : What about ‘Heaven’s Edge’? You set in the future, why’s that?
A :
‘Heaven’s Edge’ is very different because the stories are set in a different time. When it came to ‘Heaven’s Edge’ I wanted to write a book about the future, set somewhere where no one had been before. It was quite a big adventure for me. I had to invent a country, I had to invent a place, I had to invent a time as well as a landscape.

Q : Imagining that landscape – was that difficult?
A :
I don’t know, I think for me writing any book is quite difficult. It’s quite a miracle for me at the end of it that I’ve actually managed to get it the way I want it. Inventing that world was difficult but I wanted to make it as real as possible. Many people read the book, only half way through they realize that it isn’t set where they thought it was set. This is a completely new place. I wanted to make it feel like a place everybody knows.

Q : ‘Reef’ was dominated by colourful and memorable characters. Was it tough considering it was your first book?
A :
A writer’s job is to somehow get into somebody else’s world. ‘Reef’ was the first novel and I did want a book populated with memorable characters. To me part of the thing about writing a book is to create characters that will have an independent existence. As long as someone opens a book and reads it, they’ll come to life. It can happen in a novel, it’s the sort of dream that everybody is sort of following. You know when you make a movie, write science fiction or fantasy, it’s all about creating that fantasy. All of that actually happens in a novel. It’s all about creating the right words, place and somebody to read them and then something happens.

Q : You make it all sound very easy, but what’s the writing process like for you. Do you tend to re-visit your work or once its written, its out there for others to decide?
A :
I’m not the kind of writer who says I’m going to write this book, in this way, in this period of time and just do it. I kind of have a general idea, a bit of an idea and then it has to grow organically. I spend a lot of time exploring what it is, who are these characters and it’s a little bit like sculpting something. You start with nothing. In fact, if you are sculptor, you are lucky because you at least have a bit of something to start with. I also re-write my books a lot, so each book is re-written many, many, many times over before it actually goes to print. What you see in the end isn’t quite what I would have started off with.

Q : I guess all of that work showed in your first novel itself. ‘Reef’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, did that mean a lot to you?
A :
It was great. For a first novel, I couldn’t ask for anything more really.

Q : Is there already another story playing in your head as we speak?
A :
Oh yes, there is always another story. In fact, every book I write also tells more than more than just a story. ‘The Match’ for instance, is not just a story about cricket, it’s a story about families and how people adjust to their children and how children adjust to their parents. It’s very about that relationship and about idealism, the idealism of youth. In Britain, quite often young people go through a very hard time, there is a lot of youth bashing. They are told they are useless, they don’t have strong ideals and I don’t think any of that is true. I think young people have a lot of idealism and they deserve a lot of respect. So many of them do things that a lot of young people never did in the past. This book explores that and I think in a way it questions if we do in fact get wiser as we get older. Do we sort lose the idealism over the years? I think the readers have to decide for themselves whether the son is learning from the father or the father from the son.

Q : They do say there is no one teacher in life. You learn from so many people in so many different ways?
A :
Yah, that’s absolutely true. Understanding and appreciating that, I feel is very important.

More from Romesh on writing:
"The world being what it is I write to redress the balance, at least in my own mind. I want to keep an inner life alive and, with luck, somebody else's too. Imaginative writing, to me, is a way of discovering who we are, and what we have to contend with; discovering what is out there, and also what is not there. It enables me to think and explore and make something new with language, while trying to make sense of our lives."

"I'm always trying to write a story. I never really talk about what I'm writing because I find that impossible to do. Writing, to me, is actually a way of living, it's a way of thinking, it's a way of discovering, it's a way of actually getting from today to tomorrow, and therefore I can't sort of preview it and quite often I really don't know where I'm going until I get there. It's a bit like getting into a car and driving and if someone asks you "Where are you going?", you say, "I'm just going somewhere over there." [laughs], but once you get there, you know that that was where you were going, actually. And you know perfectly well what's in front of you, every inch of the way, but you don't know the whole thing. It's a process of exploration, it's a process of understanding and thinking and trying to understand where you are, where the world is, where we're all going."

"Publishers get mad with me because I tend to meddle with books quite a lot."

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