The second day in Delhi turned out even better.
I spent a few happy hours shopping at market full of beautiful and colourful shawls, handicrafts and textiles. Usually, shopping isn’t my favorite activity. But when it comes to buy lovely, exotic and of course, affordable handicrafts, I become a compulsive shopper.
In the early evening, I attended to a reading by Jeet Thayil, the author of Narcopolis, a recently published novel about the low life of sex and drugs in old Mumbai, centered on an opium den. Short listed for the Man Booker Prize, the book is making a big splash. Our book group read it last month. I had some reservation about it, especially the back story of a Chinese character Mr. Lee, but I think the voice is very original, the prose lyrical and some characters very memorable. Since I planned to come to India, an Indian writer friend put us in touch. I had been looking forward to meeting him as I sensed that he must be a highly interesting and original person, not only because he was a formal drug addict.
Jeet read half a dozen of poems: he had published several poetry collections before publishing his first novel. Some were funny and others sad and beautiful: as in the novel, he seems to be obsessed with grief and death. He also read some passages from Narcopolis, which went down well. Afterwards, we shared a quick bite at Khan Market. I presented him an antique opium pipe, which delighted him. He used to be an opium smoker and fascinated by the pipe and the whole thing. I always find it so interesting to meet writers who have a few interesting stories to tell. And they do shed some light on their works, especially in his case where his work drew from his own life experience.
I would have been happy to call it a day. Just one last thing – book shopping. When I reached the book store, I noticed the sign ‘closed’ on the door, though the light was still on. Just as I was about to leave, two people arrived, one Indian man in his early 30’s and a middle-aged western woman. The man went inside and started to talk to the owner. He obviously knew the owner. I thought: why couldn’t I follow his suit? Inside the store, I found the owner, a man in his fifties with a thick moustache, sit on a high counter, doing his paper work. It seems to me he is the easy-going type and someone feels totally comfortable with himself and his position in the world. I told him that I was looking for a book about prostitution in Mumbai called The Beautiful Thing. The book owner chuckled: “how uncanny is this? You came to look for a book about prostitution in Mumbai and right in front you is the man who has just published a book on prostitution in Delhi.” The young man handed me a copy of his book, entitled Nobody Can Love You More: life in delhi’s red light district. We swapped name cards and chatted. When the owner heard I was a writer from China, he climbed down to join us. Holding my name card, he exclaimed: “I know you. I sold your books before!” Then he asked: “Have you got an agent?” I told him that the agency represented my last book didn’t exist any more. He clapped and said, with child like delight: “Now, we need to talk. May be I can serve you as your agent?” I know there are few literary agents in India and some book owners function as agents. But I told him that I wasn’t sure that I needed an India agent to present me. Still he asked: “How about lunch tomorrow? On me.” I said I had lunch plan already. “Then the day after tomorrow?” I agreed happily, especially the young writer was also going to join us.
After the pair left, the owner, named Anuj, and I started to chat. It turned out that we have a few Indian writers as mutual friends/acquaintances. I love contemporary Indian literature, much better and richer than the Chinese. I guess the Indians have their own rich literary heritage and easy access to English language/education and there’s no censorship, not the same way as China anyway. Then he invited me to join him and his family for dinner. Why not, even though I had already had my dinner. That’s another thing I love about the Indians: they are often so warm, hospital and spontaneous. So I went to his house to meet his Canada-born Indian wife and their three lovely grown children. He took us to his favorite restaurant – a road side Chinese/thai restaurant where we enjoyed a hearty meal and even heartier laughs.
Oh, the joy of travel!