An Encounter With Orhan Pamuk
The wintry morning sun-rays shimmered softly on the dew-dappled grass carpeting the lawns of Jaipur’s famous Diggi Palace. Like me there were scores of lovers of literature basking in the warmth of mellow sunshine ruminating over Dr Karan Singh’s soft voice discoursing on the importance of translators.
Great works like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dumas’s Three Musketeers, and Mann’s The Magic Mountain, reached other shores and soil, “only because of selfless dedication of translators,” Dr Singh emphasised, adding an afterthought, “I personally have around 25,000 volumes in my library in Jammu.” To this a listener, flushed with the cool dawn breeze added: “Love them, support them and turn them into literature.”
Even as the ominous warnings of Dr Singh was sinking and permeating into the psyche of the participants of Jaipur Literary Festival, Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Columbia University reiterated a similar concern over the fast disappearance and demise of languages as species; just as plants and animals are disappearing from the history of nature never to be seen again. Dr Pollock emphasised the importance of the preservation of indigenous languages—as the death of languages is a warning signal to the worldwide evaporation of cultures from the history of civilisation.
As the sun traversed across the skies, everybody flocked to the talk of the day—An hour with Nobel Laureate Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Though I had read his novel The Museum of Innocence (Published in 2009,) I was still eager to listen and swim in the poignant mesmerising waves of this touching love story.
When Pamuk won the International IMPAC Award for My name is Red, British supernatural fantasy writer and historian Tom Holland declared: “We in the West can only feel grateful that such a novelist as Pamuk exists to act as a bridge between our culture and that of a heritage quite as rich as our own.”
After the publication of Snow, Canadian poet and novelist, Margaret Atwood, simply stated that the novel should be made “an essential reading for our times”. Istanbul a memoir of his life in the city was shortlisted for the BBC Channel Four Samuel Johnson prize, and was called “an irresistibly seductive book” by Welsh writer Jan Morris. Other Colours, a personal selection of essays and writings was published in 2007. The year 2010 saw the publication of non-fiction work—a compilation of lectures delivered in the Charles Eliot Norton Series at Harvard University, under the title The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist.
Ironically, earlier in the same year, Pamuk (who had divorced his first wife Aylin in 2001) was in news for quite some time, but it was not for any literary reason. Rumours were then making rounds of his dalliance with a female novelist. Pamuk gave rest to the grapevine by admitting to his relationship with the Man Booker Prize winner novelist—Kiran Desai.
Pamuk’s prime concern in almost all his work—revolves around the collective unconscious psyche of the people and a region’s cultural memories. And even as he began his talk in reference to his novel, My Name is Red, he came to the basic premise which haunts all his novels—What is my Culture?
The concern for the evaporation of varied and multi-hued cultural patchwork quilt that once covered the earth rankled most of the speakers in the fest. And Pamuk also expressed concern over the cultural hegemony of the America-churned out global monoculture which like an oil slick is fast spreading over the planet engulfing, gobbling and suffocating every other culture underneath its surface.
Dwelling on his desperate attempts to brush and etch out his visions and emotions on empty canvases early in his career, Pamuk jocularly added that his cameo appearances in his novels was akin to Hitchcock making appearances in films. “There is no need to delve into or indulge in any psycho-analysis on this effort of mine, except that I like to be a part of the effort. Finding publishers in my native (Turkish) language was one Herculean effort,” and probably, that maybe, one of the reasons that Pamuk confessed, “I kept taking pocket money from my father till the age of 31.”
In his Nobel lecture in 2006, Pamuk had stated, “What literature needs most to tell and investigate today are humanity’s basic fears: the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears; the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities and imagined insults, and nationalist boasts and inflations are their next of kind… Whenever I am confronted with such sentiments and by their irrational, overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me…”
Harping on his basic premise circling on the issue of love, Pamuk pointedly said, My novel The Museum of Innocence was an answer to my feminist critics. Love is not to be put on a pedestal there is nothing to be embarrassed about love.”
And as if to silence the votaries of Victorian prudishness, Pamuk to a query (raised by this writer) on the dichotomy of treatment in The Museum of Innocence towards the concept and depth of love, simply shot back, “You mean the sexual and philoshical aspect of love? Since you have used the word depth…both require a great deal of penetration!” The audience roared, and Delhi press gloated over the one-line answer.
Later in a relaxed atmosphere, I asked him, “Did you like my question?” The answer was: “Did you like my answer? Your stress on depth brought it out of me. I just could not help it.”
The day-session drew the curtains down. And the sinking orange orb slowly ushered in the gloaming darkening radiance with shafts of rays playing with the glimmering swaying mirrors shooting out flecks of rainbow lights, patched on the clothes of the folk dancers.
Sipping my Vodka tinged with a dash of Coke, as I watched the dancers dancing out universes of human evolution and shared memories of culture and humanity in sheer ecstatic rhythmic steps, Pamuk’s words delivered in his Nobel Prize speech came flashing to me: I believe literature to be the most valuable hoard that humanity has gathered in its quest to understand itself. Societies, tribes and people grow more intelligent, richer, and more advanced as they pay attention to the troubled words of their authors… But literature is never just a national concern. The writer who shuts himself up in a room and first goes on a journey inside himself, will over the years, discover literature’s eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they were other people’s stories, and tell other people’s stories as if they were his own, for this is what literature is. But we must first travel through other people’s stories and books.
By Arvindar Singh