A few words from Boman Desai

{mosimage}Hi Viji, Ayeshah, and Sharon ,

I just looked over the materials you so kindly presented in that lovely red bag, and I’m full of admiration all over again for the work you do so consistently and so persistenly and so well. Many of us may undertake such work for a little while and then pat ourselves on the back saying What a Good Boy (or Girl) Am I, but you have made it your life’s work, and that means so much more. I like to think that if I weren’t so obsessed with my own work I would do something similar – but I wonder if I might not just be too selfish. I’ll count myself fortunate to know you guys and be able to share an occasional meal. Kudos and thanks.

I haven’t had a chance to absorb all the materials, but I did read the pieces authored by the three of you. I was struck in particular by Sharon ’s observation that “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but rising every time you fall.” I also love the image of just Ayeshah and Viji working together as a team, the training wheels of TMF, also Ayeshah’s quandary about what to call Viji when they started. Viji’s response is just so VIJI that I understand more clearly the story you told, Viji, of the elder man who called you Amma onstage in Kolkutta.

Viji’s epilogue is flooded with profound and poignant reminiscences such as most of us encounter rarely in our lives. I’m not surprised, and again I’m so glad to be a part of your life in however minimal a capacity, but I wanted also to share an insight about stories that came to mind as I read the piece, that business about the point at which real life events become “stories.” I’m sure you’ve heard that Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction. You’ve also met people who say they don’t read Fiction because it isn’t TRUE. I like to tell them that Truth only APPEARS stranger than Fiction because Fiction is required to make sense of the Truth, Fiction is required to make the truth LESS strange. Pardon me if I indulge in a bit of shoptalk myself at your expense for a while, but turnaround is fair play, and this is a point I try to instill in my students. It is what makes writing important – not just writing, but Fiction.

In its essence, reporting the Truth is easy. You say That’s What Happened and absolve yourself of responsibility – but that is the work of a journalist. I don’t want to denigrate what a journalist does. It is important, but it is important in a way different from fiction. A journalist tells you the WHAT of the matter, a journalist needs to be topical, a journalist works against a deadline – but it is precisely because a novelist doesn’t work against a deadline that he is required to dig deeper, go from the topical to the universal, go beyond the WHAT to the WHY of the matter, and it is in the WHY of the matter that he makes the Truth seem less strange. You’ve heard, for instance, that Dog Bites Man is not news, but Man Bites Dog IS. It’s enough for a journalist to say Man Bites Dog, but a novelist is required to show WHY. A novelist is required to make the Truth LESS strange. That is the whole point of a serious novel. We read to understand the world better. We read to understand one another better. We read to understand ourselves better. The writer is in his fiction as God is in His world – and, in striving to make his own work understandable and recognizable and insightful, a writer gives credence to the FICTION that Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction.

The irony is that thoughtful writers are all trying to say the same thing in different words, and unfortunately the words get in the way. The Beatles said it best, as you pointed out, Viji: All You Need Is Love. They also said: Say the Word: Love. Unfortunately, as the Beatles discovered themselves, it’s easy to talk the talk, difficult to walk the walk – and, as Confucius once said: A Wise Man acts before he talks, and then talks according to this actions. So, enough talk, or I’m going to appear the most foolish man alive.

Thanks for all you do, it’s more than you know.

Boman Desai


Boman Desai, well known author and novelist, grew up in Bombay and was educated in the United States. He lives now in Chicago. He began writing in 1961. His debut novel, The Memory of Elephants, was followed by Asylum, USA and A Woman Madly in Love, Trio, Trio 2 and Servant, Master, Mistress. Boman attended one of our meetings in Bombay a couple of years ago and since then is a staunch Friend of Max .