On the penultimate day of the 2016 Nottingham Festival of Literature I attended an evening with Amit Chaudhuri which took place at the Galleries of Justice Museum. Whilst I have not previously read any of his works his name was familiar to me and as he was introduced it is easy to see why. Chaudhuri is a writer who is held in high regard and has been the recipient of numerous awards. He has written six novels in addition to writing non-fiction, essays and poetry, and he has also found success as a musician. With this in mind I was eager to hear Chaudhuri discuss his work with Amy Rushton from the Nottingham Trent University.
This discussion began by talking about Chaudhuri’s visit to Nottingham and what drew him to the city. It was revealed that this was his first visit to Nottingham and one of the reasons for visiting was his interest in the works of D.H. Lawrence and he admitted that visiting Lawrence’s birthplace was a moving experience. He spoke of how Lawrence’s work came to be so significant to him, describing how at University the novel Sons and Lovers was recommended to him and he found that it ‘opened things up’. He cited Lawrence’s ‘extraordinary passages and sentences’ as something of an inspiration to him, and that it was a ‘love of life’ that connected him with D.H. Lawrence, an artist who could celebrate the very fact of existence.
Conversation then turned to Chaudhuri’s novels of which his latest, Odysseus Abroad was a story carried in his head for around 10 years before he came to write it. A conversation between Chaudhuri and his uncle concerning a piece of art resulted in Chaudhuri casting him in the role of Odysseus. But with the idea circling in his mind for years it took a while for the pieces to all fall into place and he initially considered writing in the form of a memoir before deciding to create the novel. He also cited the works of Homer and James Joyce as being influential to this particular story, and it could be considered as a translation of Odyssey and Ulysses but from a fresh perspective.
In addition to his writing, music has played an important role in Chaudhuri’s life. Discussion turned to his musical experimentation, including his 2014 project titled This is not Fusion which received great critical acclaim. Born in Calcutta before growing up in Bombay, he talked about his musical journey from listening to rock and pop in his childhood before revisiting his old collection in 1999, exploring musical transitions. This provided some interesting thoughts on the change in music over the decades and how it inspired his own music.
At this point, Chaudhuri read from his first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address which is in its 25th anniversary year. This was an interesting reading from a book he said made a ‘statement about the writing he was going to do’ Amy Rushton went on to discuss how his novels create a sense of place, in addition to their sensory elements and the contrast between light and dark. This mention of sensory elements led to some interesting discussion into the importance of background noise and its affect on those who hear it. It was an interesting thought that as we register noise we are distracted, constantly registering something which we may not be able to see, but yet has an implied existence.
There was then an opportunity for audience members to participate and contribute further questions. This led to further discussion into the influence of D.H. Lawrence, background noise, nature and poetry and the evening was concluded with a signing. All in all this was another insightful evening which encouraged interesting, thought provoking discussion from an author who is held in high esteem.