Are all first novels autobiographical? Many of us would like to ask this question of successful writers.

“You can’t invent a colour you haven’t seen… you can’t have a world that you haven’t seen inside you,” said author Jerry Pinto, as he faced this question from the audience at The Hindu Lit for Life on Saturday.

Nothing, he said, could be written, unless it had been part of the synapses in the brain. In that sense, everything is autobiography, and the work is “deeply implicated by what I am”.

For Nilanjana Roy, her work flows from listening and empathy. And the art of listening, she said, is really taught nowhere, and she herself learnt it during her days as a journalist. There was immense potential for drawing from one’s own life, she said.

The two journalist-turned-writers read out from their works, Pinto from his ‘Em and the Big Hoom’, and Roy, excerpts from her stories.

As she dwelt on how she made the difficult transition from a deadline-tied journalist to a free-wheeling writer, Roy said the work of a journalist was often a dampener on the imagination and it took her years to overcome the impediment to creativity. On the other hand, “Journalism taught me to listen, to shut up,” she said.

For Pinto, journalism was the way to meeting some nice people, some strange ones, and eventually to “anatomising the world”.

Is not the glut in Indian writing in English, much of it poor in content and bad in editing, a negative feature of contemporary literature? Pinto replied with exuberance: “Bring on the bad books, bring on the good books, bring on the magnificent ones. We have wonderful choice. Pick up what you like. If you find it bad, leave it.”

The takeaway from the session was that a stunning debut is not really out of one’s reach. For, the novel, as Pinto remarked, will die only when people stop loving gossip. For what is a novel after all, except well-told gossip?

Amruta Patil, Samit Basu and Appupen, in a discussion, gave a glimpse into the strides made by the graphic novel genre in India.

However, they said, the day when an Indian work would acquire the sort of status enjoyed by, say, ‘Calvin and Hobbes’, was quite far away. Yet, it offered much scope for young creators and writers.

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