In the Hot Unconscious
India is an amalgamation of communities and can thus, have a literary laboratory to carry out some of the ideas said Foster
Aditi Agrawal Delhi
In the Hot Unconscious by Charles Foster was formally launched in Cafe Turtle, Greater Kailash, while in conversation with theatre personality, Tom Alter. Published under the Tranquebar Press imprint of Westland Books, the launch was attended by its editors, media persons amongst others.
Dharini Bhaskar, the book’s editor, acted as the emcee of the programme and introduced the book and its author.
Shortly after that, Alter, in his deep baritone read two sections from the book much to the delight of the audience.
On being asked by Alter if he had any nicknames, Foster quipped, “Charlie and many other things by those who aren’t my friends.”
Alter, in relation to an incident described in the book inquired if the desire to be still came naturally to Foster in this chaotic world. To this, Foster, in his usual (as I realised soon enough) witty manner, said that the desire came naturally but sadly, the ability didn’t.
Quick to distance himself from the generic breed of Western authors who glorified everything Indian as equivalent of attaining nirvana, Foster said, ‘I am not of those Western authors who rhapsodises everything Indian. After reading the book, it is obvious that I am very cynical.’
Alter observed that in the book, a final realisation about everything is not reached; it is as if it is not important to reach conclusions.
About India’s culture, Foster modestly reflected that there was hugely more to learn from India and Indians that they had to learn from him. India is an amalgamation of communities and can thus, have a literary laboratory to carry out some of the ideas.
Alter praised Foster for he gets the readers to laugh at t heir own religion and community, which, according to Alter, is a great achievement because in this apparently “politically correct” world, we have forgotten to do that.
In Delhi, especially during summers, it should be taken for granted that no programme can proceed without the electricity outage making its appearance. And so it happened during this event as well, not once, but twice. Foster jovially remarked that it was if he was being judged for the heresy [his at times cynical view of India] that he was about to utter.
Foster stated that Bede Griffiths, a pupil of CS Lewis, a classic reductionist, was a huge influence on him.
Foster said, ‘I am not of those Western authors who rhapsodises everything Indian. After reading the book, it is obvious that I am very cynical.’
For Foster, the title of his novel is analogous to the Indian conscious. The very journey across India was, for him, a journey over the body of a God, whose different body parts were apparent in different parts of the country.
Alter was rather impressed by the ‘phenomenal writing’ of the book. More than the content of the book, it was the narrative that engaged him more. He commented that Foster has talked about things that Indians take to be their second nature and thus, don’t think about them often. Foster was quick to say that he did not suffer from any ‘colonial arrogance’ and that he was ‘not an Englishman trying to tell Indians about themselves’.
Once Bhaskar opened the floor for questions from the audience, one man asked, predictably, if Foster had any ‘connection’ with another Englishman who wrote about India, EM Forster. ‘He has an R in his name. As much as I wish there was, there isn’t’, Foster, with not an R, said much to the amusement of everybody. The same man, asked Alter that when we would see his book. To this hugely uninformed question (again), Alter replied that he had already written two books.
Foster said, ‘I grew up in Yorkshire, on the edge of a great city on one side and on the other, at the edge of a forest. My upbringing led me to believe that I did not belong to a community. I am a hybrid being. Thus, I feel empathy for people with difficulty of self-description, whether it is political or ontological.’