Pulitzer novelist Ford recounts meeting a cobra on India trip

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Annie Samson

New Delhi, Feb 2 (PTI) An encounter with a cobra on ahighway in India is one surreal experience that Americanwriter Richard Ford will not hurry to forget and promises toinclude it in one of his forthcoming novel or short story.

Ford, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1996,recounts coming face-to-face with a cobra as amongst the mostincredible experiences during his maiden visit to the country,which he says produces "grand, complex and layered"literature.

"My wife and I were returning to Delhi after attendingthe literature festival in Jaipur and while our driver wassettling the highway toll tax I was shocked and shaken to seea man with a cobra in his hand tapping on our cab''s glasswindow," said Ford.

It took Ford some time and advice from well meaningfriends to realise that the phenomenon was not unusual in thecountry and the cobra had been positively defanged by snakecharmers before being exhibited to him in such a fashion.

"You will definitely find a mention of this in one ofmy future works of fiction," Ford told PTI during an interviewhere.

Eyepopping poverty, large numbers of peopleeverywhere, massive construction and the rapidly growingcities are the other aspects that the author found strikingabout India.

"In Kolkata as well as in Jaipur, it was heartening tosee a whole sea of people all so passionate about books andauthors. While you can see eyepopping poverty you also get tosee a widening middle class which you hope will have moresympathy for the poor when they climb the social ladder," saidFord.

The 67-year-old writer had inaugurated the 35thInternational Kolkata Book Fair in Kolkata and hadparticipated in the fifth edition of the annual DSC JaipurLiterature Festival, both of which took place last month.

"On my drive from Jaipur to Delhi I saw enormous half-built buildings and massive construction... Next time you go,Jaipur will just be a commuter drive from the capital," pointsout Ford who has explored the theme of transience in his worksof fiction.

Rejecting the idea of harbouring a stereotype image ofIndia filled with snakecharmers and elephants, the authorsays. "One always has a view of some place you have neverbeen, a whole melange of discrete impressions from movies orbooks but when you get there the whole aura of the placevanishes. I can''t even remember what India was in my headbefore I came here." .

The Mississipi-born author who currently lives in Miami has traveled extensively inside America and outside andeven situated his plots in Mexico, Paris etc but he saysincorporating India into his fiction would be tough.

"The only way that Richard Ford will set his works inIndia is if he drops everything he is working on currently,all his projects and comes down to India and live here for awhile," says the writer who is familiar with works ofRabindranath Tagore and has read authors like R K Naryanan,Kiran Desai, Anita Desai, V S Naipaul etc.

Also, he says, "I write for the American reader so youhave to have got to have a lot of Americans travelling toIndia for me to be able to set a story here."

"India''s literature is glamourous, layered andcomplex. It has a lot of new and young writers... With thecountry becoming more prosperous people will begin to startmoving from place to place and that is going to produce moreliterature," says Ford.

The novelist points out that movement has always beenpart of a strong source of drama.

"Drama that came from the necessity to move has beenseen to fuel art and some great literature. It was seen in theUS and has happened in continental Europe and it will happenhere also," says the writer, who as a teenager had lived in ahotel with 600 rooms owned by his grandfather after the deathof his traveling salesman father.

"Transience and movement has always been a part of mylife and I loved it," said Ford who won the Pulitzer as wellas the PEN/William Faulkner Award for his novel "IndependenceDay."

The American writer who is a dyslexic took to writingas a vocation at the age of 23 after having worked in theMarine corps, tried his hand at teaching worked assportswriter for a New York magazine before it stoppedcirculation and had even been offered a job by the CIA.

"I got down to writing when I realised that I wasgrowing old and was not doing well in any of them," he said.

Ford, who has by now written six novels, a collection of shortstories and is working on his seventh novel "Canada" says heaims to write enduring literature.

"I want to write great novels and not just passable,readable or publishable novels." PTI ANS ASH

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