I was not initially assigned to the second Saturday session at the HK Literary Festival, but I was already at the Racing Museum so I ended up staying. I am very glad I did. Rajeev Balasubramanyam is a talented novelist who won a host of awards for his first novel: IN BEAUTIFUL DISGUISES. He spent the next eight years trying to overcome the expectations that follow such early success and finally published THE DREAMER in 2009.
Rajeev looks like I imagine Jesus would have looked had he been Indian and raised in Lancashire. He has a peaceful aura and the sort of deep reading voice that requires you to listen. He read excerpts from THE DREAMER and talked about topics ranging from racism in Britain to the need for a quiet mind when writing. He shared his thoughts on multiculturalism, and said he believes that governments should step back from making policies about race as they only invite people to look for the loopholes.
Rajeev said that he needs quiet in order to think and write. After receiving lots of attention for his first novel it was very difficult to find that quiet again. In his early 20s, when many people realize they have no idea what they want to do, people were expecting him to produce his next great work. He spent eight years writing and throwing his material away before finally settling on THE DREAMER, a story of the love between a man who experiences a psychological breakdown and a dead woman.
When asked about Hong Kong, Rajeev said, “This place is just weird.” He currently teaches creative writing to adults here, and he says he has never lived anywhere else that unabashedly has just one value: money. He said two years in Hong Kong have finally made him understand capitalism and Modernity. He mentioned that his students have to consciously decide to step away from the droning, impersonal atmosphere of the city in order to express their creativity.
Acclaimed Hong Kong based author Manreet Sodhi Someshwar moderated the session. She asked pertinent, engaging questions and expertly allowed Rajeev to share his thoughts without undue interruption. The audience seemed captivated by the discussion (I know I was), and many of them appeared to be Rajeev’s former students.
After the session ended, I was lucky enough to sit down for some dim sum with Manreet, Rajeev and his partner Divya, and another festival volunteer. They were friendly and personable, telling stories about their crazy roommate when they first moved to HK and asking for my own stories about the American Southwest. I have been thoroughly impressed by the authors I’ve met so far at the Literary Festival. The overwhelming similarity is that these writers are people who seem to be fascinated by other people.