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A loaf of bread, a glass of bubbly, and thou

By Ashok Ferrey 

So the stage is set, the curtain about to rise. Tomorrow, Sarasavi Bookshop at One Galle Face will be launching my first book in 5 years. I don’t know really know why, but there’s something of a feeding frenzy going on. Old aunties in kaftans and dangling earrings are jostling for pole position, rising from their covid-stricken beds, throwing caution and turmeric to the winds. I have explained to everyone that there’s a pandemic on, and please, they mustn’t feel the need to humour me by turning up.

‘How could we not?’ they say in incredulous tones. ‘We simply HAVE to be there for you!’

And who am I to spurn such loyalty? Though it’s something of a toss-up whether they’re there for me, or because they’re fed up having sat at home socially isolated all year. Or perhaps they’re coming for the bubbly that’s going to be served, in plastic cups. (Never spoil an Auntie, has always been my motto.)

In the middle of all this chaos, Colombo Fashion Week rings up.

‘Is it true you’re launching your book on the last night of fashion week?’ they ask sternly. Obviously I have committed some grave social faux pas, though I do not know quite what. (In the normal way of things, Ashok Ferrey knows as much about fashion as Mother Theresa does about disco dancing.)

‘Yes,’ I reply tremulously. ‘But it’s an early show, 4.30 – 6 pm.’

‘So that’s OK then,’ they reply. ‘Because we’ll be requiring you on stage to recite the opening poem. At 7.30 sharp.’

‘But I’ll be tired,’ I bleat.

front cover of The Unmarriageable Man
The Unmarriageable Man || Ashok Ferrey

 

You? Tired?’ They curl their upper lip. (Colombo Fashion Week does a very good curled upper lip.)

‘Don’t be late. Wardrobe will be in touch to let you know which designer you’re wearing.’

It seems that I have to recite the alternate lines of a song, with the amazing Julius Mitchell singing, and on keyboards.

I think to myself: It’s a good thing Ashok Ferrey isn’t going to be the one singing. Otherwise it really will be the last night of Colombo Fashion Week. Forever.

Hey, now that’s an idea . . .

 

‘Writing is almost biological’: Ashok Ferrey on writing fiction

Having lost his mother at a young age, Sanjay de Silva lives in Colombo, under the thumb of a controlling Sri Lankan father. When his father is diagnosed with cancer, he feels the ground shifting under his feet, the balance of power realigning. Though it is something he has dreamed of all his life, he is uneasy when it happens. Learning that he is entitled to live in England, thanks to his half-English mother, he moves to London.

This is the story of an Asian builder in south London. But at its heart, The Unmarriageable Man is about grief; how each of us copes in our inimitable way with the hidden mysteries of family and the loss of loved ones. Because, as Sanjay is about to find out, grief is only the transmutation of love, of the very same chemical composition – liquid, undistilled – the one inevitably turning to the other like ice to water.

Today, we have with us the author of the book, Ashok Ferrey talking about how the book was born from his own personal experience of dealing with his father’s death.

By Ashok Ferrey 

 

Recently, I said somewhere that the most difficult part of writing a book is to reach inside your soul,  extract the truth, squeeze it out, then hang it on the line to dry – for all the world to see. By this measure, my latest book, The Unmarriageable Man, was the most difficult one I ever wrote. Twenty years ago my father died – of various complications following cancer – and it was a hugely traumatic time for me. It was precisely this trauma that made me a writer: I remember taking him to the cancer hospital in a tuk-tuk, forcing a banana down his throat on the way there (bitter experience had taught me that after the chemo, he wasn’t going to be able to eat anything for the next 24 hours), and bringing him back home where he collapsed on the bed. I went into the next room, and in an exercise book lying around I wrote (with a pencil) my very first story. It took me half an hour. When I finished I remember looking around the room thinking What have I done? Oh, what have I done? It was almost as if I’d committed a murder, it was so unexpected!

front cover of The Unmarriageable Man
The Unmarriageable Man || Ashok Ferrey

 

That story, The Perfect House (in Colpetty People) remains today one of the funniest things I ever wrote. It taught me that this process of writing is almost biological – there are unseen forces inside you that begin to operate when you let yourself go. In my case, weirdly, the more stressed I am, the funnier the writing. (This is what I tell young writers who attend my workshops. Stress is Good. Generally, they look at me in dumb incomprehension. Sometimes fear. As if at this point I’ll bring out a large stick.)

Fast forward twenty years. It has taken this long for me to feel confident enough to deal with what happened back then, with my father. Fictionalising it has helped – it allows you to put a certain distance between you and your subject. So this story has been cooking in my brain all this while, which only goes to show that you can’t force your writing: it will come out when it has to; and only when it has to.

So I hope you enjoy this book. I hope it has been worth the twenty year wait.

**

 

6 Sessions to Look Out for at JLF ’17

It’s that time of the year!
10 years since the first JLF, the Festival has grown into the world’s largest free event of its kind. Having hosted 1300 speakers and welcomed nearly 1.2 million book lovers, its success has been astonishing and heartwarming.
Some of the biggest Penguin authors have rocked the stage at JLF and this year promises to be even better. From commercial superstars to critical bigwigs, this year we are getting the crème de la crème from our author roster.
Here are a few of the sessions you’ll not want to miss at the Festival.
Gulzar
Gulzar and Pavan K. Varma in conversation
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People usually run out of superlatives when talking about the evergreen Gulzar. One of the greatest artists to ever grace the JLF, Gulzar Sahib’s session, along with Pavan K. Varma, will be on his latest work – Suspected Poems. You’ll not want to miss his musings on poetry, literature and the state of the world.
Tabish Khair
Manju Kapur and Tabish Khair in conversation with Ashok Ferrey
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Currently teaching English at Aarhus University in Denmark, Tabish Khair was born and educated in Bihar. At the session, the former journalist will be talking to Ashok Ferrey about the context and inspiration for his works. He will also talk about his book Jihadi Jane, a powerful novel about two Muslim girls who decide to join ISIS.
You can also catch him at the Festival along with Saeed Naqvi, Qaisra Shahraz, Sadia Dehlvi and Ornit Shani as they talk of the conflicts and polarities of being an Indian Muslim in an increasingly divided world.
Ashok Ferrey
Ashok Ferrey, Kyoko Yoshida and Marina Perezagua in conversation with Sunil Sethi
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Ashok Ferrey will be in conversation with Sunil Sethi on the pursuit of fiction that involves a leap of faith between material and literary reality. He will be joined by other notable contemporary writers as they also discuss how writers enter and access fictional journey. The bestselling Sri Lankan author will also explore the devil within as he discusses his latest book The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons.
From talking about the thin red line between a person’s beliefs and politics with Tabish Khair to joining Ashwin Sanghi on his talk about the art of writing thrillers, Ashok Ferrey will also be at various other sessions with other authors.
Ravinder Singh
Ira Trivedi and Ravinder Singh in conversation with Lucy Beresford
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Romantic fiction reaches out across time and history to every successive generation with tales of love. The King of Romance, Ravinder Singh’s session is about love in contemporary India. The author who is known for writing from the heart, about the heart will speak about the psychology and the changing mores of love in our times.
Devdutt Pattanaik
Devdutt Pattanaik introduced by Amrita Tripathi
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Ancient Greece and India have both bequeathed a lasting body of myth to the world. In his latest work Olympus, Devdutt Pattanaik attempts to understand how an Indian reader raised on a steady diet of local myths and legends might respond to classical Greek mythology. By reversing the gaze, he explores the fascinating connections between these stories and sagas. At the Festival, Pattanaik will talk about both the mythologies and their lasting legacy.
Devdutt Pattanaik will have two more sessions at JLF – on the history and legacy of the Vedas and on his book The Girl Who Chose.
Arshia Sattar
Arshia Sattar and Volga in conversation with Vayu Naidu
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A symbol of chastity and loyalty, the goddess Sita has evolved into a feminist icon for her silent strength and endurance. In her session, Arshia Sattar will talk about her highly acclaimed translation of the ‘Uttara Kanda’. She will talk about the sacrifice, choice and the complex moral universe of the Ramayana.
Arshia Sattar will also be in various other sessions at the Festival discussing atheism in the ancient world to understanding the brilliant A.K. Ramanujan.

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The themes of equity and democracy run through the Festival’s veins bringing humanitarians, historians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers together on stage. Access to these renowned thinkers along with some of the finest writers in the world provides a potentially life-changing opportunity to visitors.
We hope to see you at Jaipur!

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