London Diary by Suresh Menon
A Pair Of Keen Eyes

He had dressed for the evening—making me feel shabby in my jeans. A white suit, red shirt and a red handkerchief in his breast pocket. He might have been Tom Wolfe, except for the wheelchair. "Most people think you are dead," began Anil Kuruvilla, a friend from Uganda. Sasthi Brata, author of My God Died Young, a cult book of the 1960s, didn’t take offence. He was more keen on getting the protocol right. "I will first buy you drinks at my favourite pub, and then we will go for dinner," he said.

Since My God was reissued a couple of years ago, Sasthi has attracted a new generation of fans. The title was taken from Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and duly acknowledged—but that didn’t prevent the great Nabokov from suing Sasthi for using those four words. "I didn’t think he was serious, but Nabokov was notoriously litigious, and I was forced to pay," recalled Sasthi. "Years later, I reviewed a book of his interviews where he had altered the text of the original. It was a literary rather than a financial revenge, but it felt good." Sasthi has been working on a book for nearly three decades now. "I will probably die before I finish it," he says, without expecting anyone to demur.
Sasthi Brata was writing about alienation long before it was popular, about sex before it became commonplace, and about the connection between the two long before it became fashionable to do so. "All my books are autobiographical," he says. "I don’t have the imagination to write a novel." Perhaps. But he was a good reporter, flying in and out of India undetected during the Emergency and writing about it for The Guardian—one of the most reprinted of his articles.
The legendary Edmund Wilson wrote of Sasthi in the New York Review of Books thus: "It is a painful admission but I never thought I would read such lucid, vibrant English prose by a young Indian, writing about alienation." Strangely, Sasthi hadn’t read it. We spent a while digging that quote out on the Internet. Sasthi was pleased. "Edmund Wilson, imagine that!" he said, as he poured out the post-dinner wine at his apartment. At 69, Sasthi Brata continues to be the Outsider, and continues to be proud of the fact.


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