R.K. Narayan had a profound impact on me: McCall Smith


This year’s pandemic, among its many disruptions, robbed Bengalureans of a chance to see Alexander McCall Smith in person. The internationally acclaimed British author was part of the line-up of speakers at the ninth edition of the two-day Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF) that commenced on Saturday. But he could only participate in the festival online owing to the travel restrictions.

In an entertaining and insightful session with Bengaluru-based Swedish writer Zac O’Yeah, Mr. McCall Smith admitted that he missed visiting India. “I was there before the pandemic,” he said, “I did quite a bit of my writing there.”

The late Indian writer R.K. Narayan is one of his most favourite authors. He spoke about how Narayan’s works influenced him. “I don’t think I would have written The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series had I not read Narayan. So, he had a profound impact on me. I love his style and vision. I am a fan of his Malgudi series, in which he talks about ordinary life. He’s talking about small-town life. And he’s got wonderful humanity in his books.” “If Nobel Prizes could be awarded posthumously, it would be wonderful for him to get one,” he added.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has sold over 25 million copies, is his most successful work. The 21st and the latest of the books, How to Raise an Elephant, was released earlier this year, marking the return of the much-loved Botswanan protagonist Mma Precious Ramotswe.

When Mr. O’Yeah asked him, perhaps jokingly, if he never got bored of returning to his characters, Mr. McCall Smith replied, “The more time I spend with my literary characters, I grow fonder. I haven’t reached a point where I tell them, ‘I no longer want to hear from you’. I feel that I know them much closer than I have when I return to them every time. But I also have six to seven series of books. So I don’t get stuck with the same characters all the time.”

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Pandemic, poetry and more

In a session titled ‘The Masked Intruder: Pandemic and You’, psychologist Anna Chandy and Dr. Farah Adam discussed with writer Amandeep Sandhu about the physical and mental health implications of COVID-19. They touched on the topics of periods, parenting, social connection, among others, and offered tips for coping with the pandemic.

Mani Rao, Mamta Sagar, Maitreyee B. Chowdhury, Nandita Bose, and Prathibha Nandakumar came together for a poetry session.

The former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh and political science researcher Amit Ahuja, the joint winners of the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2020, talked about their respective books, A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of VK Krishna Menon and Mobilizing the Marginalized: Ethnic Parties without Ethnic Movements.

For more information about the festival and Sunday’s schedule visit bangaloreliteraturefestival.org

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Sagar Biswas

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