Saturday, March 21, 2009

12th March at Oxford Bookstore

By Syeda Bilgrami Imam

One goes quite avidly to anything that has to do with books, but half expecting to be disappointed.

One was not.

The curiosity about which two writers/books made it to seizing the Commonwealth trophy - was not subjected to suspense.

The two books were up there on the table propped up and unmissable. But in the event, even those who hadn't read them were not overly surprised.

Professor Paranjape touched on the lore of how the Commonwealth continues year after year to reward its denizen writers, the established and the aspiring. He gave the how and the why.

One had hoped to hear him fold forth a bit more - since he is a fine speaker- and not merely officiate as Chairman of the Jury.

Karan Thapar was disarming as he held forth on his connect with Jhumpa Lahiri on his bedside table. He was acute in his choice of a passage which painted the nearness and the chasm between father and daughter in Unaccustomed Earth. The appetite for the book got whetted as he lauded his victory.

His adddress was apt and clipped not because he was in a rush to leave to host his TV show, but because he wanted the audience to want more of Karan Thapar. A bright thing to do.

Mani Shankar Aiyar came next to announce the first-time, first book winner: Mohamed Hanif and his The Case of the Exploding Mangoes.

A young writer, an unknown Pakistani and one treading a territory Mani knew at close hand. That became the reward for the audience.

The man that is Mani Shankar Aiyar knows the language, cares for literature, seeks to understand people and predicaments and politics. And all of this he presents to you after reflecting on it.

One felt almost elated in that hour that the rare species called a statesman was at hand - in the avatar of a book lover.


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