The unassuming winner

Jaipur, Jan 20 | Updated: Jan 21 2007, 06:34am hrs
Kiran Desai, making her first public appearance in India since winning the coveted Booker prize, downplayed its, and the importance of other prizes, in unequivocal terms as she interacted with the media on the sidelines of the Literature Festival, as part of the Jaipur Heritage International Festival.

Reacting to comments on her mother, Anita Desai, not winning it despite being nominated thrice, the author said, It makes me realise how ridiculous prizes are. Its a bit like the lottery just five or six people deciding what should be chosen.

Discussing her writing in a free wheeling conversation, US-based Desai also admitted that she, and many other writers of Indian origin like her who had left India tended to depict an India they were familiar with, rather than what was happening here at the moment. I couldnt write of India today, she says. However her writing continues to be India-related as she still does draw her emotional depth out of India. People like Bharati Mukherjee still write about India as thats what they connect with at a deeper level.

Desai too still draws her childhood spent in India , and later as the only sibling accompanying her mother as she taught for long stints in the US. My best childhood memories are of learning to read with my mom, and later of the wonderful library we had at home. I remember the colour of each book. She also imbibed a lot of her mothers writing and working style as the youngest of the four siblings and the only one to have been with her mother in the US. We went through the usual immigrant experience, and I learnt a lot, getting absorbed in her writing life. I write in the same rhythm, she says, revealing that she had initially planned to set The Inheritance of Loss in New York. Full of admiration for her mothers work, she says her writing spilled out of every aspect of her.

She is less generous about those who wrote angry messages to her, decrying her denigration of Nepalis. A lot of them havent even read the book. I am actually quite sympathetic towards the struggle and harsh to the police. Its not the writers role to portray people as heroic. However, she was sure that even if she wrote on political issues, it was from a completely different angle. The momentum of this book is in trying to capture the emotional heart of the story.

Describing herself as a slow writer, she also says the plot is not her strong point. The Booker has changed her life, she says. For seven years, I would hardly talk to anyone during the day, but now I spend all my time talking.

The rather shy writer, who has been touring, quite literally, the world since October, wants to get back to writing. Otherwise my next book may well take 15 years, she says.