Writer, traveller and photographer Shivaji Das is the author of Angels by the Murky River: Travels Off the Beaten Track, Journeys with the Caterpillar: Travelling Through the Islands of Flores and Sumba, Indonesia and Sacred Love: Erotic art in the temples of Nepal.
Shivaji’s writings have been published in magazines such as TIME, Asian Geographic, Venture Mag, Jakarta Post, Conscious Magazine, PanaJournal, Freethinker etc. He has given talks on topics ranging from Travel Writing, Humour in Cross-Cultural context, and the culture of Indonesia in universities and forums in Singapore, Morocco, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil. His interviews have been featured on BBC, CNBC, Channel News Asia, Travel Radio Australia, Around the World TV, Radio Roaming, and Singapore Discovery Centre’s IFD exhibition.
Shivaji is the conceptualiser and organiser for the Migrant Poetry Contests in Singapore and Malaysia and is presently working as a management consultant in Singapore. He spoke to Nation.co.ke about books and his literary fantasies.
Which one book do you hold so dear that it can’t possibly be lent out?
I would lend out all but these three books and each has its own reason:
Ahmadou Kourouma’s Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote. This book is too precious to lend. I was trying hard to find this work and I eventually chanced upon it during my first visit to that most legendary bookstore of all – City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco.
Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised for its dangerously infectious nihilism
Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch because I have myself not managed to read my own copy yet
Your favourite childhood book?
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Who is your literary crush? (Not a book character but a real person you admire in the lit world)
What’s your greatest fear?
Accidentally stepping into a dirty toilet, it’s my recurrent nightmare for over thirty years
Most embarrassing stage/writing mistake ever?
Organising my first ever photo exhibition based on the pictures from my book Journeys with the Caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores and Sumba, Indonesia. The photographs kept falling off the wall. When I returned to the gallery (also a café) a week later, the event blurb was the only poster left on display as the cafe managers had simply stacked up the fallen pictures at one corner.
If you were to dine with three writers dead/alive, who would they be and why?
Wyslawa Szymborska – To enjoy her wit, imagination and simplicity.
Ryszard Kapuscinski – To ask his secrets of always being at the right place at the right time.
Jack Kerouac – To demand compensation for making me restless with itchy feet.
Most unforgettable character from a book?
Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On the Road. He is freedom. He is life.
Which book do you wish you had written and why?
The Elements of Style – By Strunk and White, so that my foibles in writing become the prescriptive standard for all.
Greatest craft sin you have committed?
The list is long – from using Arial font for the manuscript, to having complete faith on spellcheck, to overuse of exclamation marks! To my editors, I beg for your forgiveness!
If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?
The Epic of Gesar, the longest literary work in the world and still growing – to keep me busy
Recipes from a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw and Martha Greenlaw – for the occasional indulgence (vegetarian selection only)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – to prepare for life once back from the island
If you weren’t an artist/writer, what would you be?
A sweet seller in India, one of those with incredible girth that occupies most of the real estate in their shop. I would sit all day churning sweet boiling milk. But why would I complain? I would be forever surrounded by delicious sweets and good moods of customers.
Any other fun/interesting thing you’ve always wanted to tell readers?
Always pre-order vegetarian meals on flights – it comes before everyone else’s, gives you the pleasure of causing some annoyance to the airlines, and saves the planet at the same time.