What? Dialogue with Abha Dawesar
Where? Auditorium Tweebronnen, Bibliotheek Leuven
When? November 27 @8pm
Abha Dawesar did not strike me as a writer. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I watched her TED talk on “life in the ‘digital now’” before I went to this event. The image of a smart and energetic young woman with impressive degree of eloquence matches up to the kind of friendly stereotype that people have of an Ivy League graduate (In fact, she did graduate from Havard) rather than correspond to one’s curious expectation of a writer who is supposedly odd and (if one is lucky) funny. Currently based in New York, Abha Dawesar travelled all the way to our charming little town to be part of Europalia India. She seemed a bit jet-lagged yet she proved to be a good sport for the night – or shall we say a professional indeed.
The theme for the night is youngsters. In Abha Dawesar’s works, you find youngsters coming to age in troubled times. In her first two novels, Miniplanner (2000) and Babyji (2005), the protagonists are both teenagers searching for their identity via the exploration of sexuality. Their quest for Self is played against the backdrop of political unrest in the modern India where the author grew up. Being a political being is part of our identity, she said, especially in a country like India where caste and ritual are still visibly inscribed into one’s individual self. “I don’t have an agenda. I write because I have to.” When asked if she writes to change the situation in her home country, Abha Dawesar uttered these words after a long pause. It’s an urge that drives her to record and share what she’s been through as a writer and what India has been through as a nation. She believes in hope. Hope that India as a nation can count on. Hope that we see only in youngsters.
Abha Dawesar said she’s been writing her whole life, but it was not until she has published her first two novels that she started to feel like a real writer. So her third book That Summer in Paris (2006) was the occasion for her to reflect on what it really means to be a writer. She said that she was looking of a Godfather figure for herself at the time when she was writing this book. As a young writer who has just embarked on the literary path, she felt like a clueless child looking desperately for guidance. Interestingly enough, she never managed to find a Godfather but it was the writing of this very book that helped her come to age as an author.
As the night went on, Abha Dawesar revealed more and more of her literary world. Sometimes it is all dark and ugly, as she describes her fourth novel Family Values (2009); yet sometimes it is more artistic and abstract, like the universe that she tries to build up in her Sensorium (2013). With five novels under her name and a first draft of her sixth novel, Abha Dawesar speaks with more confidence and certainty of her literary career. So maybe it’s time for me to change my mind, too.
Europalia India in collaboration with 30CC, free entrance