Saturday, May 3, 2014

Book Launch of 'The Americans' by Chitra Viraraghavan in Hyderabad

I met Chitra three years ago when she came to the Hyderabad Literary Festival in 2011 with husband and friend Krishna Sastry Devulapalli, whose debut novel 'Ice Boys In Bell Bottoms' had just hit the market. I was on a panel discussion with Krishna and Vamsee Juluri, who had written 'The Mythologist' then, and we were to speak about all things Hyderabadi to Meena Alexander who ended up speaking more than all of us. But my impressions of Chitra and Krishna are very vivid and we hit it off well and have since stayed in touch. Chitra has always been thoughtful goes the extra mile to get things in order for people she cares about, and I suspect, even for those she may not care. She is kind, warm and a very giving and loving person.
Sridala and Chitra after the launch
I did not know she was working on her own book then. Later I heard she was working on it, though she would not reveal anything about it, and then came to know that she is the biggest chupa rustam of all. Her debut novel 'The Americans', has been published by Fourth Estate, the literary imprint of Harper Collins, which is a statement of the quality of writing surely. I was very happy for her because she is one of those people for whom you do not harbor any other feelings but those of genuine warmth and affection. Yeserday she launched 'The Americans', stunning cover and all, in Hyderabad, at Landmark, Somajiguda, with its fast depleting stocks of books and merchandise. Chitra was in conversation with Sridala Swamy, poet, writer and critic.

I walked in early to meet Krishna and Chitra and found Chitra deep into her fifth or sixth interview. Krishna was speaking with another old friend Radhika Rajamani. I stepped out to meet Vinod at Minerva over coffee and mirchi bajjis and then we made our way back to Landmark. By now a few more familiar faces had come in. Anjan had come despite his busy schedule and I like this part of him where he balances out his life as a senior police official with his other passions. Bijju arrived, Shobhs and Anjali came, AP, Ramaraju. Mohana Krishna, one of my favorite directors, master craftsman and great company, came in despite the busy workload of having just launched his new film project. As I suspected the number of chairs were not enough. I had warned the store manager about it. Luckily he had a back up and got some more chairs in and even thanked me for my early warning.

The event was lively and fun. The discussion was sharp, concise and informal and most of us could figure out what was going on unlike some events where the two people on stage talk as if they are having a private conversation of which no one else can make head or tail of. Sridala asked if the book had autobiographical elements, about the different structure and the unusually large number of characters, why Chitra wrote the book and what she feels about Indian writers in America. Chitra spoke strongly, clearly and conveyed the discomfort she addressed through this effort of hers - of how America rubs itself off on Indians and how what we see is not what really is. There are several other shades too and her attempt was to open up the spectrum and show it like it is. It should bring in much honesty into this aspect of our lives I feel, because it has always been like the new clothes on the emperor - none daring to question it.  Chitra, I am sure, would not have held back and must have delved deep into all the muck that we do not see or do not want to see. It will be another great illusion shattered (where will we go now?), and perhaps its the right time to do that as well.
In conversation
Chitra read a few passages from the book and I loved the one about Shahrukh. In the Q&A Chitra was asked what the message was, and if she has missed out anything from he book which she may have wanted to include. She said that she did have to tone her anger down a bit.

Anjali sat quietly on my knee and watched the proceedings carefully. Anjan looked at her and observed that she was pretty quiet. He asked her if she understood what was going on and she said 'Yes'. By the end of the session it was still good for more which meant that it had good energy and flow. There aren't many book launches that you could have wanted to go on for longer but this was one such.

We picked up the books but to get them signed you must go to the billing counter which is a few miles away. Then once you buy, you walk back all those miles again, thirsting for water, when you have to deal with a menacing security guard who insisted on seeing the bills, proof that we bought the books. Despite the pleas of book lovers like us that we were only getting our copies signed and that we had already paid for the books, the menacing chap would not yield - show me the bill. I am the security, he thundered. I told him to take a walk. He could check the bill at the exit if he wanted. That left him feeling rather upset but that's ok.
Mohan Krishna Indraganti, me and Anjali with Chitra
Signs done, pictures taken, discussions finished, we bid our goodbys. The Landmark Manager came and thanked me for my valuable input about increasing number of chairs. Orange juice and biscuits were served. A good job done.

The event went off well. Good attendance, of about 50. Good conversation. Nice. The dramatic moment of the event was brought in by Krishna for me. Having given six interviews at a stretch and meeting people since 3, Chitra had a minor coughing fit in the middle of her reading. We all looked anxiously at her, listened to her cough in discomfort and looked at the two unopened bottles of water on the table. What? Who? How? And then a rustle, soft as wind. Krishna swiftly strode past an anxious audience, tore open the cap from the bottle and handed it over. Two sips by Chitra and the matter was under control. Sighs of relief from the audience. Krishna to the rescue. Such is the stuff these two are made of. But seriously, lovely couple.

Now to read the book which looks very tempting and promising.


Jayasrinivasa Rao said...

Dear Mr Harimohan Paruvu,

I attended the launch yesterday and you have brought out the conversation between Chitra Viraraghavan and Sridala Swamy and the whole evening at Landmark so very evocatively in your post ... I thought I should write about the launch in my blog, but I feel you have written about every aspect, including the water episode, so astutely that nothing more needs to be said ...

Chitra said...

Hari, thanks. So warm and so generous, as always.

Harimohan said...

Chitra, you deserve it all and more. Will read and review 'The Americans' soon. Was fun catching up though I wish I had more time with you two. An interview for the blog would have been good. Maybe later. Cheers.

Harimohan said...

Dear Winding River,
Thanks so much. I enjoyed the evening. Would love to read about the event on your blog. Don't deprive me of it.

Sumana Kasturi said...

What a sweet recap of the event! I've just finished the book and loved it. I'm sure you will too.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Sumana. I am half way and am thoroughly enjoying reading it.

Jayasrinivasa Rao said...

Dear Harimohan Paruvu ... thanks for the pep up ... here is my account ... in two parts ...