Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Anita Desai: née Mazumdar

"As a novelist you can only view history through individuals. But I see history as something that happens in spite of individuals; it gathers momentum and sweeps them away. What they choose to pick up when they flee, what they lose and what they take - that makes history real to me."

Journey To Ithaca further explores foreigners' encounters with India through Matteo, an Italian ascetic and disciple of "The Mother", and his more materialistic German wife Sophie, who prefers sybaritic Goa to the ashram. Spanning India, Paris, Cairo, Venice and New York in the 20s of Sri Aurobindo - the Indian yogi and philosopher - and the 70s of Hermann Hesse-inspired hippies, it stages a conflict between scepticism and belief, but ends ambiguously.

Desai was interested in "the non-political colonial view of India, of mystery, exoticism, the spiritual fascination. Indians take it for granted; it's as down to earth as eating and drinking. But Europeans approach it on a different level, so there's constant misunderstanding and distortion." Yet she rejects the "mediating" role sometimes ascribed to her, insisting she has no answers. "To me, fiction is exploring; if you felt you'd arrived, you'd give up."

The Guardian Profile: Anita Desai: née Mazumdar. Born: June 24 1937; Mussoorie, India.
A passage from India
Maya Jaggi traces a journey from provincial India to suburban America
The Guardian, Saturday June 19 1999

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