Reading with Red River Authors: Ramu Ramanathan

The writer you admire most – and why?

Samuel Beckett. For his minimalism, for his musical score with words, and for the genius of Krapp’s Last Tape and Happy Days.

What are you reading now?

Utsa Patnaik’s The Republic of Hunger and Other Essays. Roland Schimmelpfenning’s German plays in English. Jayant Pawar’s short stories in Marathi which I am trying to translate into English.

Your first memory of a book?

Letterpress reproductions in three colours of Chekov and Gogol and Pushkin in my grandfather’s library in Chandigarh.

One book in school / college that was taught awfully

Shakespeare’s plays. Taught by professors who don’t understand Shakespeare is playful.

One book you would recommend to a millennial?

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And The Jataka Tales.

One book that altered your view about literature?

Three plays actually. Satish Alekar’s Begum Barve and Mahanirvan. Plus, Gangaram Gavankar’s farce in Malwani Vastraharan.

Most under-rated piece of literary fiction, according to you?

A play in Hindi. Bhuvneshwar’s Tambe Ke Keede. Also, Allan Sealy’s Trotternama.

One book about a city that made you yearn for the city?

The Mumbai in Salman Rushdie’s Moor’s Last Sigh and Midnight’s Children. And Manohar Shyam Joshi’s Hamzad.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Vijay Tendulkar said, stop attending the shows and rehearsals of your plays. Instead of hanging out with actors, write more plays.

One book you’ve reread many times (and why)?

Tulsi’s Ramcharitmanas in Awadhi and Kabir’s dohas. The only thing is, I have not read them. But I keep hearing (and re-hearing) them all the time. Sometimes the words resonate in the most unexpected of places. According to me, Tulsi and Kabir are the two most popular poets in India. One reason is: they are people’s poets. And they are not confined to universities and classrooms.

One classic you have not read


One living author who you would love to write the preface for your next book?

Svetlana Alexievich. If she is busy, then Hillary Mantel.

One writing quote that you love to quote?

Writing is easy, everyone does it. Re-writing is tough, no one does it. I say this all the time.

One nervous tic while writing?

Sneezing, non-stop.

What is your ideal writing scenario?

If and only if Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram and Phule and Agarkar and Borges could be my ghostwriters.

What was your strangest or most embarrassing author encounter?

Bumping into Amitav Ghosh in the men’s cloakroom at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I blurted out, “I know the printer (Vasant Goel of Gopsons) who produces your books.” 

One author – living or dead – you would love to spend a 33-hour flight journey with? Which film will you recommend for the in-flight entertainment?

Adam Zagajewski, the Polish poet. I will request him to see Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court to understand what happens to India’s Adam Zagajewskis. (Update: Adam Zagajewski passed away on 21 March 2021 in Krakow.)

One neglected work you think must be translated in all the languages of the world?

Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag Ka Dariya.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?

S Hareesh’s Moustache. Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain. Muktibodh’s Rachnavali.

Where do you read?

Anywhere and everywhere.

Which do you prefer: fiction or non-fiction?

In the past few years, Indian English non-fiction has been very good. In fact, excellent.

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

Samuel Beckett’s plays. Krapp’s Last Tape is my favourite. I recited it in front of the great man’s grave in Paris. After which I placed two beedies and tickets from a show we staged on his tombstone. It flew off in the breeze. The graveyard attendant scolded me in French and made me pick it up. I heard the old man chuckling in his grave.

What else can you recite?

Nagarjun’s cult poem Mantra Kavita. Most apt for today’s chaos.

One book you want to write?

James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.

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