May 19, 2010

AWRF 2010 - An evening with William Dalrymple


That friendly librarian helping you with the travel and history books at Central Library might be Jade, whose career includes an exciting 14 months as a VSA volunteer at the National Library of Cambodia. Ask her if she attended “An evening with William Dalrymple” at AWRF 2010 and then you’ll know, especially if she describes it to you like this: 

The audience waited with anticipation for the evening with William Dalrymple to begin, and after being formally introduced, he was quickly on stage, telling us he was going to read from four of his travel books, not from the latest one only, as I had expected.

 He began with his first travel book In Xanadu written when he was 22, which he called a “student romp” as he retraced, during his summer break, Marco Polo’s journey from Jerusalem to Shangdu (Xanadu). He read an excerpt from his humorous account of going to the cinema in China where he and the locals watched James Bond in Dr. No.

The City of Djinns was his second travel book and explored his fascination with Delhi, its history and wonderful array of eclectic inhabitants. Dalrymple recounted for us his adventure with taxi driver Ravinder Singh in the hazardous Delhi traffic where “might is right” and the “driver of the loudest vehicle” wins.

His third book, From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium, written in a more serious tone, examined the Christian minorities in the Middle East and the complexity of the relationship between Christianity and Islam which historically have co-existed closely, sharing holy places and religious practices.

Dalrymple’s final readings were from Nine Lives: In Search of the Modern in Sacred India, published in 2009. Not written in the style of more traditional travel writing, Nine Lives is what Dalrymple called “nine nonfiction short stories”, told by the nine people whose stories impressed him most as he travelled throughout India. Each of the individuals embraces a different religious or sacred tradition, and includes a Tibetan monk, a Sufi, Tantric sadhu, a sacred prostitute, and a Theyyam dancer. Dalrymple wanted to show how a variety of traditional faiths is surviving in contemporary, globalised modern India. He read a couple of excerpts from the first story about a Jain nun who became grief-stricken when her fellow nun and travelling companion of twenty years died through taking her own life according to the Jain tradition of Santhara, or fasting until death.

During question time, we learnt that Dalrymple, himself a Roman Catholic, believes that there are many paths up the mountain of religious faith. When asked what his Indian readers think about Nine Lives, he told us that while he had aimed it at a Western audience, it had touched the Indian readers more and that they were now his biggest reading audience. He reflected how his previous works were written more from an outsider’s point of view and I think his latest work shows a new maturity in travel writing that enables the people to speak for themselves.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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