Give myself up to what was different and alien
Tilman Rammstedt is an award-winning German author who was bangaloreREsident in 2013. We talked with him about expectations, memories and the allure of the exotic.
‘All that may be true in the accounts of China comes from the Lonely Planet China travel guide,’ is what you say at the end of your novel The King of China. Is that why you decided to set out for Bangalore?
You mean to experience something outside a travel guide for a change? In any case, I didn’t have Lonely Planet India with me and neither will I be writing The King of India.
Why does a successful author, winner of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize to boot, agree to be a writer-in-residence abroad?
I try to evade the allure of the exotic, as far as possible, and the compulsion of always having to experience something new, but I don’t always succeed.
The Goethe-Institute’s artist residencies are intended to offer space for new perspectives – to what extent can you endorse this?
In a foreign country, one is above all bewildered at first, and that is not the worst of all perspectives.
In your view, which one of the following is most applicable: to create space for creativity and inspiration, to establish one’s own work in very specific places, to be able to pursue one’s projects without having to think of the business side, to reflect together with others in a bi-national exchange, to establish or deepen long-term working contacts?
Well, to be honest, I was a writer-in-residence in Bangalore only for a ridiculously short period of time, and almost all the points mentioned above mattered little. My intention was to give myself up to what was different and alien and that was easily done in Bangalore.
What happens when one sends Tilman Rammstedt to a foreign country?
In most cases, the foreign country is pretty indifferent; Tilman Rammstedt wonders about things, he likes doing that.
As a resident of Berlin, many people would think you are living in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Why India? Why Bangalore?
One thing Berlin does know is how to flaunt this dubious reputation. And in Berlin, in particular, it is highly advisable to get away from the city every now and then. It takes itself far too seriously.
Were you already familiar with India?
No. Not at all. And I still don’t know it.
How did you approach the country and the residency?
By plane. And with very little prior knowledge and even less in terms of plans.
What did you expect? What attracted you?
I did not have even the slightest of expectations – that in itself was the appeal.
What sort of advice you were inundated with?
I have a friend who is from Bangalore. But he gave me no advice, just smiled knowingly. ‘You’ll see for yourself,’ he said. And he was right.
What impressed/amazed you the most?
I gazed at the traffic, completely enamoured, until the very end.
Did you also travel outside Bangalore?
No, I couldn’t find the exit.
A lasting memory?
On my second day, to ride through this crazy traffic for hours on the back of a scooter, no helmet, clinging to a fat, unknown man in whom I had blind and fathomless trust.
An experience that you would rather forget?
I don’t like forgetting.
Was Bangalore your first time as an artist-in-residence?
No, not the first, but the most alien.
When one is at the other end of the world, does one also spend the entire day there sitting at a desk? How did you work?
I did not spend a second at a desk. I spent the entire day walking or driving around and convincing myself that, after all, this was also work.
How does one imagine a day as a resident in Bangalore?
Exactly like that.
How did your writing tempo change abroad?
It stopped without a murmur.
Is language a handicap in author residencies?
For authors, language is unfortunately always a handicap.
And to conclude, a brief questionnaire about India:
Auto rickshaw or Ambassador?
Sula or Kingfisher?
Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan?
Mutton or paneer?
Himachal Pradesh or Goa?
Taj Mahal or Corbett National Park?
Yoga or Ayurveda?
Chilli or mango?
Holi or Diwali?
Night train or night bus?
Both. Always both.