Filled with humour and entertaining barbs, Zac O’Yeah and Upamanyu Chatterjee took the audience through an interesting journey through Upamanyu’s new book, his experiences as he authored Othello Sucks, and a candid interaction with the audience over the issues over coloured skin and the great bard himself.
The session opened with a reading by Upamanyu Chatterjee from his book titled “Othello Sucks’ which, he admits, had several instances that were taken directly from experiences from his life, and interactions with people around him. “It’s a parity of a real life situation”, he says “Prompted by a series of events three or four years ago. The children were studying shakespeare at school and hating it. I, the older generation, said he’s just taught badly in your school – Macbeth is wonderful.” However when the school invited Upamanyu to talk about it on an occasion, he re-read Othello only to realise that it’s dreadful. “Black Othello sucks because they bard is white.” he quotes from his book.
The narration kicked up a thick discussion on the popular topic of treatment of colored people in the past, and how the bard’s rendition of Othello has in fact ‘colored’ opinions of whites who fell in love with his work – ‘Remember the dark skinned dim witted Othello?’.
With stories of members of the audience reacting violently to the scene’s where Othello strangled Desdemona, with cries of “How dare a black man touch a white woman before me”, the discussion threw light on how the coloured would view the play rather differently now in a free more vocal society. For Upamanyu the aim was pretty simple “It’s about getting away from that English Lit world and getting back to it from the outside.”
Moving on from ‘Othello Sucks’ to Upamanyu’s ‘Fairy Tales at 50’ the discussion took a turn to cover more current matters of concern – ‘age’ being the focus. While Zac described Upamanyu’s new book as comical, cynical and nihilistic, Upamanyu described it as an attempt to pick on the cliches of the world of fairy tales. “Fairy tales is contemporary. It picks on the cliches of the world of fairy tales and then tries and puts them into a contemporary context to see how it looks. The violence and the rest of it are from our daily lives. We live in times were people are beheaded on Facebook.” he says. In response to people’s reactions to the book, he also went on to say – “I was bemused when I heard it’s shocking and disgusting, but it’s all part and parcel of the process of building readership.”
The end of the session was marked by a flurry of questions thrown at the authors, by the audience. Ranging from their controversial takes on the bard, intolerance (given it’s the hot topic today), political correctness coming in the way if creativity and enjoyment of a novel, and surprisingly the question of the a writer’s social responsibility amidst his need to express himself creatively. When it came to political correctness, Zac very aptly stated almost all questions in the areas in just one statement – “We can’t read the books that were written in those time and understand them the way they were understood by the audience then. The change has been organic. We need to adapt.”
As for social responsibility, Upamanyu felt that it’s a collaboration between writer and reader. The reader needs to be intelligent enough to buy, understand and absorb his literature tolerantly. If he can’t he has the option to not read it.
A candid session with great views, inspiring statements and a quite a few chuckles along the way, The conversation with Zac O’Yeah and Upamanyu Chatterjee was a discussion that just brightened every attendee’s day.
By Apoorvah Sankaran