Sunday, 18 March 2012

Ashok Banker at Easy Library, Bangalore

This morning, a few of us were fortunate enough to attend a cosy Book Talk by renowned Indian writer, Ashok Banker, who surely must be one of the most unassuming persons on the planet! He started by narrating how he came upon the concept of re-telling Indian mythologies by giving us listeners a fascinating insight into his familial background, which formed the essential prompt for him personally. He hails from an essentially Catholic/Christian/Anglo-Indian background, with both his mother and maternal grandmother having spent a few years in the then-Ceylon (Sri Lanka). His devout Catholic mother met his Hindu birth-father in India and they divorced within a few months of marriage. The divorce process was enabled by Banker's mother's conversion to Islam (for legal reasons).

Thus, Banker explains, he did not believe he "belonged" to any particular religion per se. It was only in school when fellow-students questioned him that he began to question himself about his religious identity. While classmates were being pressurised to attend Sunday Catechism classes, he was under no such obligation. They had reason to resent this pressure, while he took pleasure in reading and indeed studying the very same verses and psalms they hated. He had always been a voracious reader too. Banker said his family frequently visited religious places; not only churches but also dargahs and mosques. He took a personal interest in learning about Hindu mythology too, in order to understand his feelings towards his biological father (and a step-father). In short, it was this melting-pot of religious myths and stories in his own persona that prompted him to embark on a series that would interest today's Indian children.

Though Banker's earliest works were successful, he is more widely-known today for his series on Hindu mythological stories - all this while he does not claim to be "Hindu". He believes that while young Indians do need to be exposed to other literatures, they also need to get a better grounding in our own literary heritage. This is what he aims to do with his massive projects. He also gave us his take on the Ram/Ravan and the Ramayana/Mahabharatha dichotomy. According to Banker, there is neither a black-n-white universe nor are there shades of grey. Instead, each one of us is a distinct colour, a unique hue, which cannot be replicated. I found this an extremely engaging concept...

He explained that he did not aspire to re-write the Ramayana by changing its end. For instance, he has neither challenged Sita's banishment by Ram nor has he given it a feminist twist by making Sita banish Ram instead! Banker reiterated that he was both a radical and a feminist in its truest sense. Another feature of his works is that he does not attempt to "paint" his characters, in that there are no vivid descriptions of the mythological characters' body and form/features. As one audience member pointed out, the average Indian today simply cannot identify these mythological characters with the cast of a televised version that appeared on Indian screens several years ago! And this Banker totally agreed with. He also spoke of his mode of working, which was to read available versions of these mythologies translated into English (which is his mother tongue) as well as read up on the Sanskrit texts (of which he has sufficient knowledge). Then, one closes the books and switches on the computer...and the words start flowing...He does not immediately send his manuscripts for publishing. Instead, he carefully analyses the readers' reception of his works and then decides on the right time to send his next work to the publisher. Hence, some of his manuscripts have sat on his desk for almost 5 years! It is indeed heartwarming to know of authors like this, who keep their readership, and not the potential revenue, in mind...

Banker has also taken to new media and is a frequent user of Twitter, as many will know from his reaction to recent episodes in the Indian literary scene. His books are available in e-book format too. He is extremely generous with his time and attention and I do hope we readers get to benefit more from his knowledge and intellect in the years to come. And lastly, a massive Thank You to Vani, owner of Easy Library, who is instrumental in arranging such fantastic Author Meets...

1 comment:

  1. Smoothly written. Makes me wish I was there to meet Banker. He is the first Indian author to "get" fans, readers and to develop a positive relation with them.