Conversation with Arvind Krishna Mehrotra on ‘The Book of Indian Essays’
By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 12 May: A very engrossing conversation took place between the compiler of ‘The Book of Indian Essays’, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, a renowned poet in English, and Surjit Kishore Das, former Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, at the Doon Library & Research Centre here today. ‘The Book of Indian Essays is a compilation of around 45 Essays written in English over a period of last 200 years by writers with Indian connection. The compilation of this anthology has been done by Mehrotra, who is among the well known contemporary poets in English in India and abroad.
The book, probably the first of its kind in India, includes essays written by some of the best known Indian writers in English including RK Narayan, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Amitav Ghosh, Dom Moraes, Aubrey Menen, Jawaharlal Nehru, Anita Desai, Pankaj Mishra, Mukul Kesavan, and also two writers from Uttarakhand, namely Ruskin Bond and Irwin Allan Sealy, besides Sara Rai, Dharma Kumar, Madhur Jaffrey, Ram Guha and Nissim Ezekiel.
The conversation was opened by Prof Dr BK Joshi, the Founder director of The Doon Library and a former Vice Chancellor of The Kumaon University. Joshi recalled his association with Mehrotra of being over 60 years. Welcoming the guests, Joshi also said that The Doon Library and Research Centre is now aiming to hold regular programmes and discussions related to literature, arts, music and films, etc. Though, the plan is to start such discussions in English and Hindi, primarily, an effort will be made to include Punjabi as well at a later stage and to also hold some discussions in other Indian languages.
Surjit Kishore Das, a former chief secretary of Uttarakhand and currently the chairman of the Board of Governors of The Doon Library and Research Centre, reminded the gathering that earlier writings in the country and even abroad were mostly in poetic form – the history of prose is probably not older than 5 centuries. In India, the history of prose writing is probably 300 years old. Most early writings in Sanskrit, Tamil and other languages in India and of Roman and Greek Literature were in poetry form. He also went on to introduce the compiler of the essays in this book form, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, as a top poet in English in contemporary India. Born in Lahore but brought up in Allahabad, Mehrotra went on to become a professor at Allahabad University of English Literature.
He sought to know what was in Mehrotra’s mind while choosing to compile the essays, to which Mehrotra chose to give a rather humble response claiming that the publishers approached him with the proposal and also handed him some advance, and then he went about doing the compilation. He further claimed he did not know about all the essays beforehand but was introduced to them by his friends. Later, during an interactive chat with the audience, he said that there was no pattern behind choosing the essays. He, however, chose what he liked as a reader. The only thought behind his selection was that he chose to exclude all political essays as well as economic essays as they tended to have a lesser shelf life.
At the request of Das, he also read out paragraphs from various essays. This reading was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience which included many eminent faces. Mehrotra read out from the essays of Ruskin Bond, Sara Rai (Granddaughter of Munshi Prem Chand), Dharma Kumar, Tagore, Aubrey Menen and Mukul Kesavan. The essays chosen for the reading session by Mehrotra were diverse in nature.
During the course of the discussion, Mehrotra claimed that Allahabad University and other Indian universities did not stand anywhere in comparison with leading international universities. This was responded to by Das, who said that while there is lot of scope for improvement, Indian universities have produced great scholars as well and he mentioned the Nobel Laureate CV Raman, who never studied abroad.
Among those present in the audience included former Chief Secretaries Indu Kumar Pande, Nrip Singh Napalchyal, former DGP Anil Raturi, Additional Secretary Radha Raturi, former Principal Secretary Vibha Puri Das, Brigadier Behl and RK Singh.