I have met 21 Nobel Laureates. Pearl Buck, USA; Kawabata Yasunari, Japan; Pablo Neruda, Chile; Nelson Mandela, South Africa; Robert Manchu, Guatemala; Desmond Tutu, South Africa; Lech Walesa, Poland; Shimon Peres, Israel; Yasser Arafat, Palestine Liberation Organisation; Kofi Annan, Ghana; Wangari Maathai, Kenya; Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh; Amartya Sen, India; V.S. Naipaul, Trinidad; Nadine Gordimer, South Africa; Octavio Paz, Mexico; Wole Soyinka, Nigeria; Gunter Grass, Germany; Hennery Kissinger, USA; Eisaku Sato, Japan; Martin Luther King Jr., USA; and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia.
Had Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations, not died in plane crash in September 1961, R.K. Narayan would have got the Nobel Prize for Literature sooner rather than later. I often spoke to R.K. Narayan about missing out on the prize. His answer was that of man who had Malgudi written all over him. “I am glad I did not get the Prize. It would have disrupted my life, peace and tranquillity completely”. He meant it.
We had been intimate friends for 40 years. I still re-read some of his novels, specially, “Swami and Friends”, “The Bachelor of Arts”, “The Guide” and his enchanting autobiography, “My Days”, in which I appear. The year, 1965, New York. R.K. Narayan was in serious trouble. Harvey Breit, at one time literary editor of the New York Times was an old friend of R.K. They fell out over Harvey’s stage version of “The Guide”. “His version was so different from mine that I withheld my permission to present it on the stage.”
R.K.’s lawyer warned him that he should leave the country immediately, because, Harvey was taking him to court. A summons would be issued and R.K. would not be allowed to leave New York for six months. “Thanks to my friend Natwar Singh of our foreign service, I secured asylum in the Indian Consulate.” I put him on the Air India flight at 8 p.m.
This year’s prize for Literature has been awarded to the French author, Annie Ernaux. She is the first French woman to get the award. In all 17 female writers have received the Nobel for Literature.
One of her novels, “Getting Lost”, published in 2001, is about her intense affair with a Soviet diplomat.
Annie Ernaux is 82 years old. The citation was read out by Mats Malm, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner. Part of it lauds the “courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”.
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of Freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
This is stanza 35 from Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali” for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. No other Indian has got the Literature Prize since then.
On 6 October, a half demented 34-year-old Thai drug addict and dismissed police officer committed a horrific crime in a children’s school in the northern eastern rural town, Nongbua Lamphu. He entered the child care facility, armed with a pistol, shotgun and knife. He killed 38 people, including 24 children, taking their afternoon nap. Not one was more than four years old. Each was stabbed or shot in the head. Their eight-month pregnant teacher met the same fate.
The killer then walked home, shot his wife, son and himself. Thailand is a Buddhist country. At 5:1, weapons per 100 people, gun ownership rate in Thailand is among the highest in Asia.
The chief of RSS, Shri Mohan Bhagwat seems to have become an enlightened Hindu reformist. Do away with the concepts of Jati and Varna, he said four days back. I have little doubt that some of his conservative followers must be feeling uneasy. Let them.