New Delhi: Pulitzer prize-winning American novelist and short-story writer Richard Ford, known as the master of contemporary `dirty realism` where the marginalised becomes the glorified, loves to read Rabindranath Tagore and RK Narayan.
"I have been reading a lot of Rabindranath Tagore lately and I just love it. His writing is inspiring. One of my friends gave me a compilation of Tagore," Ford told reporters in an interview. He was in India for the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival and also visited Kolkata.
Often hailed as one of the finest writers of his generation that includes stalwarts like Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff, Ford has been compared by critics to contemporary American icons like John Updike, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Walker Percy.
He teaches fiction literature at the University of Mississippi.
The 66-year-old, who was in Kolkata to inaugurate the Kolkata Book Fair after attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, is "exploring the possibility of using India as a theme in one of my books".
An avid reader, Ford has read "Anita Desai, Amit Chaudhuri, Salman Rushdie and lots of RK Narayan".
"I like the plain-spokenness of R.K. Narayan, especially `The English Teacher` and the way he phases out of reality into fantasy. Salman Rushdie`s books are quite fantastical in the way he brings in the story of Indian independence. He has an interesting way of portraying life. He is a realist," Ford says.
"Magic realism exists," Ford says while citing the example of Gabriel Garcia Marquez`s "One Hundred Years of Solitude". "But I personally don`t believe in such categories. I think it is just another way to drive people away from books by those who take leave of realism," he says.
Ford is best known for his novels, ‘The Sportswriter’, ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The Lay of the Land’. ‘The Sportswriter’, a psychological tale about a failed novelist turned sportswriter, was named by Time magazine as one of the five best books of the year in 1986.
In 1995, ‘Independence Day’, the sequel to ‘The Sportswriter’, earned Ford both the Pulitzer prize and the PEN-Faulkner award for fiction literature. Ford`s novels chronicle the breakdown of institutions like marriage, family and community. His casts portray "the rootlessness and the nameless longing to belong".
Ford is currently writing a book on "national borders that explores life along the border between Canada and the US".
"It is a natural border; not contested like the India-Pakistan border or like Kashmir. So many borders are contested, no one wants to redraw the border between the US and Canada and there is no warfare.
"I have been going back and forth along the border and it does not separate a Hindu country from a Muslim country," he said, comparing the border between India and Pakistan to the one between the US and Canada.
The obvious similarities between the US and Canada "are shared cultures, long history and languages", he says.
"The same has been said for India and Pakistan, but differences have been stirred with time, distinctions have been drawn and political boundaries have been erected for the better or for worse," Ford said.
The new book is "a fiction told through the voice of a 15-year-old. His parents are put in jail for robbing a bank. But before being arrested they make a premium payment for the little boy to be taken across the border to Canada so that he escapes the juvenile authorities in the US," Ford said.
Recalling the making of his Pulitzer prize-winning novel ‘Independence Day’, Ford said: "I found inspiration for the book in the word independence that kept turning up in sentences I read in newspapers and books."
"It is an iconic American word and our strongest strength. And I thought that if I could use the word ... if I could have a novel and say something about independence.
"In American religion (social and religious matrix), the notion of independence is used as an excuse for separating ourselves from each other. It is independence gained by insularity," Ford said.
The writer, who owes his allegiance to fiction, votes for the novel as a way of "redirecting one`s attention from the anxieties of life". "Novels are funny, beautiful and illuminating," he said.