April 23, 2021
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'Half White And Half Black'

Barack Obama is being "celebrated now as a black man" says the Nobel prize winning littérateur, when he is actually "bringing together within his own DNA, his blood, what we all wish to see: the end of racism"

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'Half White And Half Black'
'Half White And Half Black'

She’s a small woman, but despite her age, 84, and seemingly fragile appearance, Nadine Gordimer remains outspoken as ever. Her impressive body of work -- she received wide acclaim for The Lying Days, July’s People and The Conservationist -- suffused with political activism, won her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. She is currently in India. She did a small reading in Mumbai on Nov 9 and delivered the Nobel lecture at Kolkata on November 10. A compilation from her two public appearances.

Following is from her book-reading session and interaction at the Durbar Hall of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai on November 9

Opening remarks:

I’m not here to give a speech. Forget about this old woman talking to you. Hear a story from a 10-year-old Mozambique girl.

I was going to read something from my last book, Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black and Other Stories, but I decided that with the terrible happenings in the world -- children starving in an endless cycle of violence and immigration - it would be more appropriate to read The Ultimate Safari, a story about a little girl and her family fleeing to South Africa from civil war in Mozambique.

[Later, after reading out the story, she explained how she came to write the story.

The BBC was shooting a documentary in the refugee camps and I’d accompanied them... Soon after, I read an advertisement in the London Observer, selling African adventure as the ultimate safari

When I saw the children, I had the urge to put myself in their shoes. I realised that what I’d just heard about — the trek these people make through the Kruger National Park — is the ultimate safari and that’s how the story came to be written.

The Indian authors she admires:

Rabindranath Tagore, Nayantara Sahgal, R K Narayanan, Shashi Tharoor, and of course, the great Salman Rushdie.

I recently read Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies. I love his work.

I also like Nayantara Sehgal's Mistaken Identity. In today’s world, on account of terrorism’s threat, we all have become suspects...like prisoners we go through security checks.

I also read Arvind Adiga’s White Tiger. It is brilliantly written, but he’s stressed the more shocking aspects of society too much. He tends to rub it in a bit.

On fellow Nobel winner V S Naipaul: He is a great writer, but his novel on Africa is too racist."

On South Africa

The African National Congress (she had joined the party while it was still banned) has split and I’m torn. On the one hand I feel loyal to my old party. But I find the man who has caused the rift, Jacob Zuma, to be morally dubious. He’s populist and promises everything and he’s not afraid of advocating violence.

[On Zuma’s symbol of the raised fist and his anthem ‘Umshini wami’ - bring me my machine gun]: This incites people to take to violence. I am puzzled about how I am going to vote. I don’t want to desert my own ANC.

[on the ban on her books during the apartheid regime] It would have been an insult if they hadn’t been banned. This was an honour.

I must mention the decisive role of South African Indians in our freedom struggle and in exposing the invasive impact of apartheid.

On 'domination of the image' in media

With people constantly looking at images on television sets, it is a pity that the written word, which opens doors to the imagination, is becoming less and less relied upon for its ability to impart information. I feel sad for children growing up without physically turning the pages of a book.

From her remarks at Calcutta while delivering the Nobel lecture "Witness: The Inward Testimony" at the Town Hall on November 10:

On the role of writers and literature

I was born in a privileged white minority. But it’s only as I grew up that I realised and became witness to the unspoken in our society...

As (Albert) Camus said, 'The moment I am no more than a writer, I cease to be a writer.' The writer's job is to go deeper and come out with something that not only portrays a true perspective of what has happened, but also its root and repercussions.

Tagore had expressed way back in 1903 that literature should not merely narrate a sequence of events but also the churnings of the heart -- reveal the secrets of the hearts.

It was a sunny day in New York in September 2001 when suddenly terror pounced on the sky. We had seen Hiroshima, but this was a new horror. Tragic violence continues across the world… What place does literature have in all this?...

Journalism is the palette of images happening around us. Television brings us direct and immediate evidence of this. But, the holistic meaning can not be reached through immediacy.

The magnitude can’t be captured in a hurry and this is probably where literature comes into play...

On Obama:

I have a view of it that I'm sorry to say has not been expressed sufficiently. And that is, right, he’s celebrated now as a black man, signifying, that at least in a very powerful country like America, the domination over rest of us has been overcome. But it’s not pointed out that indeed, he is half white and half black.

To me that symbolically represents a kind of advance in recognising the human tribe as one. In other words, he is bringing together within his own DNA, his blood, what we all wish to see: the end of racism. I hope this symbolism means something.

On globalisation:

The concept of globalisation, as we see it now, seems to be hardly more than a series of trade pacts. It certainly doesn't comes to the heart of the problem of the huge gap everywhere in the world, certainly in your country and in mine, between the rich and the poor.

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