Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Howard Jacobson thinks Indians really get his humour

Howard Jacobson, author of The Finkler Question signs copies of his book at the Royal Festival Hall in London . His book has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2010.
I recently suggested to my friends that we all read the Man Booker prize-winner of 2010 and get together to discuss the book.

One of the recipients of my email wrote back saying we should also place bets on which of the short-listed authors was likely to win. Since I haven’t read any of the six short-listed books, I decided to place bets based on which book I would like to read rather than which book I think will win.

I became most interested in The Finkler Question because I want to read something funny while also getting a taste of British-Jewish identity. So a few days ago I bought a copy of The Finkler Question and went to the Royal Festival Hall to get it signed by its author Howard Jacobson. While waiting in line for my turn I decided that I would like to ask him two questions. Heres how it went. (Please note that I wasn’t making notes when we were talking so I’m quoting from memory. Its obviously not accurate word for word but this is more or less what he said.)

When I reached his table I smiled at Jacobson and said, “I have two questions for you. First, what is your writing regimen like?”

He answered, “I start my day early ...I wake up at 7.30 and start writing.”

“What do you do to take a break?”

“I don’t take breaks… well except to eat but I get back to it. When I’m writing well I just keep going and going. My next book is also ready. It means I’m very unfit right now…”

“My second question for you is about writing comedy. How do you improve the comic element in your writing?”

“Writing comedy is like creating music…you have to get the beat right. You have to listen and you have to keep re-working it till you get the beat just right.”

“I know I said I have two questions but now I have another one. Do you think your humour translates across cultures? Do Americans, Australians or Indians find it just as funny?”

He had been taking a sip of red wine from his glass and put it down in a hurry because this question seemed to excite him.

“Indians really get my humour. They just really get it! I got a good review in the Hindustan Times and yesterday someone else from another paper called.”

“Why do you think Indians enjoy it so much?”, I interjected.

“I think its because they are removed from it….they are outside….its different. I would love to go to the Jaipur literary festival.”

“Will you go next year?”

“No I can’t go to the coming one but hopefully in 2012.”

At this point I thought he was tired of my questions and would sign my copy and send me along. Instead he said, “Now, I have a question for you.”

“Go ahead..”, I said, looking surprised.

“You have the nicest set of teeth I have seen. How did you manage that?”

I was so flustered by the compliment that of course I said something stupid.

“Uh…umm… I think my mother took me to the dentist a lot.”

(Curse the flight of wit!)

This time he smiled and signed my copy and I spun around and left thinking to myself, “I’m so going to look after these teeth of mine…..”

PS: In about an hour from now we’ll know who won the Man Booker for 2010!

Update: Yay! Its 10:33 pm and he just won!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Starfish Enterprise

Keeping me company on the Tube these days is "Half the Sky", a book about the horrors of trafficking in women, written by the American journalist couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. At the end of a chapter called "Rescuing girls is the easy part", where the authors narrate their experience rescuing two Cambodian girls from the clutches of pimps, there is a beautiful old Hawaiian parable. It is worth keeping in mind because it takes the dispiriting hopelessness out of the statistics on human misery. Here goes:

A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.
"What are you doing, son?" the man asks. "You see how many starfish there are? You'll never make a difference."

The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.

"It sure made a difference to that one," he said.