Friday, December 9, 2011

Wilbur Smith in Hyderabad

When I heard from Vinod (and later Sheila) that Wilbur Smith the famous adventure novelist who has been writing bestselling novels since the time we were in school, was coming to Hyderabad on a book tour to promote his new book 'Those in peril' my first thought was to call Vardha. Of all my friends Vardha was a die hard fan of Wilbur Smith from his early days and despite his many exhortations I never got down to reading his books. But anyone who has written 33 novels in a writing career spread over 47 years and is a bestselling novelist world over, and specially someone who is as big a name as Wilbur Smith cannot be given a miss. Vinod and I planned to go but he dropped off and I did as well, until a last minute call from Vardha made me change course and I landed up at Landmark, Somajiguda.

Koni had predicted a crowd of 5000 - he was that awed by the publicity around the man! I told him that 100-300 would be the size for an author here (the largest I saw was perhaps around 400 for Amitav Ghosh and certainly Chetan Bhagat would ahve drawn more). True enough there were about a 100 die hard readers. I walked in when he was already speaking so I got some parts of his speech where he recounted several incidents in his career as a writer. From the funny ones when he was hauled up for speeding by an English cop (when British police are extremely polite you know you are in big trouble) who also told Mr. Smith that he had arranged a cell next to that of Jeffrey Archer's in jail, to that of a man who posed to be a close friend of Wilbur Smith and even promised to get an autographed copy from him to Wilbur Smith himself, to the Aussie kid who had his leg amputated after a train accident and who found hope after reading about a similar incident in the Courtney series of Smith, to his pen friend from Texas who died and was buried with all the books of Wilbur Smith, to his loss of illusion about movies made from his novels, to the writer who signed his books in an empty bookstore knowing that the bookstore would then not send it back to the publisher, he spoke of several incidents in his career as a writer. He was full of fun, self-deprecating humour and great to listen to.

When the questions were to be asked the usual hands went up. 90% of the people who ask questions in such meet-the-author sessions are of a special breed. You know the questions. The keen bio-observer - 'In that book, I felt that there was an autobiographical element. Do you agree?'. Then the ignoramus - 'I never read any of your books, what do you write, how long do you take to write. I will start reading today.'. Then the culture enhancer - 'Namaste. In India namaste means blah blah. I have never read any books but you seem to be the sort who seemed to want to know what a namaste meant so here I am.' The keen student 'Do you write fiction or non-fiction?' The euphoric clappers who clap at everything the man does or says. Then the inevitable one about writer's block, the one about whether he did all the things he writes about, when he writes and with what he writes, then another about movie deals. The one question that made sense to me was of a young woman who asked what his advise would be for young aspiring writers. Smith cautioned that it is hard work and needs lots of discipline and that it is a lonely work with no motivation at all from anyone. But he said that it was a wonderful way of living a life if one liked writing and had a talent for it.

He signed copies, the readers were asked to queue up. I got a signed copy of 'Those in Peril' thanks to Sheila who said she would get it for me. Vardha got his copy of 'Asegai' a hard bound, signed by the author. Wilbur Smith, son of a cattle rancher from South Africa, who grew up on 25000 acres of the ranch with the farm hands, who always showed a penchant for writing despite trying his hand as a tax consultant after becoming a Chartered Accountant, whose first book was published in 1964 at age 33, who married four times, now to a lady 39 years his junior and settled in London, came across as a man who had his feet firmly on the ground, a sign of someone who wears his greatness lightly on his shoulders. I wish I could have stayed longer and actually met him which would have made it nice but I was already late to pick up Anjali so I rushed away. 33 books in a lifetime is a life lived with a clear purpose. Wow - now that would be a good number to get to - another 31 to go!

6 comments:

Madhav said...

Love his books. I would have loved to see him.

Anonymous said...

I stay in States and my sister lives in Hyderabad and she was one of them...She told me about the tour and I was all excited to hear her talk...I wish I was there.....

Harimohan said...

Thanks Madhav, Anon,
In fact when he mentioned his old pen friend from Houston Texas Madhav, we were thinking of you! One of the nicest things I heard him say yesterday which i missed mentioning in the blog is the way he sees all his readers as his old friends. It is a nice thought - that someone who has read your work where you have put in so much thought and effort - can be considered nothing else but a friend. He said that to Vardha (while signing his book) when he heard that Vardha has been reading his books for years - "we're old friends".
What is very apparent when you meet people like him who have an amazing body of work and who are truly masters at their work and the ones who are trying to get there is the complete humility of the masters as opposed to the full-of-themselves attitude that borders on arrogance from the new ones. Somehow the masters seem to realise that their work resonates with the others not merely because of their great talent but also because they all somehow feel that same way - the writer and the reader. Its truly an education to see them, hear them and read them.

W!$3 Queen ! said...

stop going around writers who are successful. Finish your 100 th book and let me know..

-Ravi

Harimohan said...

Sure Ravi. Thanks for your concern but its truly an education to meet the big writers. I don't know about 100 but I will keep you posted on each one.

Rajendra said...

An original PJ- Wilbur mere kab tak mujhe, aise hee tadpaoge...add something here to complete it.