“I don’t belong, I always felt the sense of otherness”

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OUTSIDER: Orhan Pamuk at a press conference in Mumbai on Thursday.
OUTSIDER: Orhan Pamuk at a press conference in Mumbai on Thursday.

Meena Menon

Pamuk says if he felt at home he wouldn’t be able to write

MUMBAI: Orhan Pamuk who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, confesses he still has not read his father’s writings. His memorable acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize titled “My father’s suitcase” is based on the suitcase gifted to him by his father and what it meant to him.

On Thursday, Mr. Pamuk, 56, during an interaction with the media at the British Council here, said he did not want to read his father’s writings. A publisher brought out his Nobel prize acceptance speech in the form of a book along with other writings and he wanted a picture of the real suitcase on the cover. “I opened the suitcase and closed it,” he says. Like he writes in his speech. “Because even at my advanced age I wanted my father to be only my father not a writer.”

The suitcase given to him by his father two years before his death, is full of his writings, manuscripts and notebooks. In the speech, he refers to the weight of its contents. “I am now going to speak of this weight’s meaning. It is what a person creates when he shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and retires to a corner to express his thoughts that is, the meaning of literature.”

In a sense that weight is still with Mr. Pamuk and will probably stay with him throughout his life. At the interaction, Mr. Pamuk spoke of literature, his reason for writing, the use of different narratives for a historical novel, his experience with translation and other issues. His latest book The Museum of Innocence was released last year and is a 600-page love story. He said it was loved in Turkey and is being translated into English.

“Translation is a very troubling, damning aspect of my life,” he admits. He says he checks his work with his translators and he respects them. “It’s a drama in my life, I can’t say that it’s always happy, it’s a lot of mental and intellectual energy but I am very happy with it. One of his works The Black Book came in for a lot of criticism and was re-translated eight years ago.

His books reflect a keen sense of otherness that he admits to feeling all along. “I don’t belong, I always felt the sense of otherness. I don’t think I feel at home in the West or in a non-Western world,” he says. He said if he felt at home he would lose the energy and the anger to write. “I have the anxiety of belonging wherever I go and most of the writers I admire are like that.”

Pamuk spent his entire life in Istanbul with familiar landmarks, the same buildings, roads, and people. “Living in the same place does not mean I am comfortable,” he adds.

His feelings of melancholy emanated from growing up in Turkey, living at the edge of Europe but poor, and a remnant of a glorious empire. He says then there was a feeling that they would never grow or become rich and there was a lot of sadness in his childhood, which is reflected in his book Istanbul.

After the 1990s things changed and his young readers read his books and say its not true.

He is planning a second part to Istanbul where he will talk about the post-1973 scenario.

Mr. Pamuk said he begins the day by not reading newspapers or watching TV. He finishes his work first. He is very influenced by what he sees, he says. This self-discipline for 35 years had made him what he is.

He spoke of major psychological and literary influences and named Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust as the greatest novelists.

Since the novel is not a popular form any more in the global age, he said he wrote for the people who read words all over the world. The core of the art of the novel is the human capacity to identify with others.

However, there was a limit to identification with a culture or person one is not sympathetic to. He said in his stints abroad he was often asked if would write a novel based in the West. “I will never write a campus novel,” he said. In fact his new novel is set in Istanbul.

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