It’s not every day that we meet our hero, and when we do it’s an affair to remember! One of our readers recently got to meet her favourite author and shared her experience with us. Once you read her personal account of meeting her favourite author during his recent visit to India, you too will be tempted to pick up a book authored by none other than Wilbur Smith and be hooked onto for life, just like Mimi Munshi.
Meet 39-year-old Gurgaon based Mimi Munshi, a Campaign Operations Manager for Analytics Training Institute who got to meet her all time favourite author – Wilbur Smith on his recent book tour to India. You must be wondering what is so special about meeting a favourite author? Well, being a fan of this well known author has played a very important role in finding her her life partner and falling in love with someone very special.
How did it all begin?
She got hooked onto the books by the famous author way back in 1999. “The first book was Elephant Song, she recalls, “I was working for Blue Dart Express in Kolkata and a colleague of mine from office gave me this book as a present. We were talking and I mentioned that I would one day love to go to Africa because for me it holds a lot of mystery and I dream of visiting that place one day. I was at the fag end of my tenure in Blue Dart and decided to join another company and I think it was a parting present that he had given me,” remembers Mimi.
He had signed the book with the following words:-
“let the curtains open,
And the story begin,
To set the stone rollin’
To set the blood coursing in your veins.” …… enjoy while you can and again and again if you can”
She further continues, “I picked up the book without much expectation and I did not realize how true his words were and within a couple of pages the author had me hooked to the story. I had not come across such writing before that … it was wild, it was savage, it was romantic, it was poignant … and above all it was AFRICA brought forth to you with a lot of passion and love for the place. I read and re-read that book so many times – it’s in tatters now and yet I read it often and feel the same sense of adventure every time I read it.”
Books, love and marriage
As the old saying goes ‘Marriages are made in heaven’, is not only true in her case, but, a book of Wilbur Smith simply acted as a catalyst.
Mimi recalls, “As luck would have it I somehow lost touch with the person who introduced me to Wilbur Smith. During that time my folks were very eager to see me settled. Vikram (my then would be husband) gave me a call one evening as a process of getting to know each other. We had not met then.”
She continues, “After an initial awkward 2-3 sentences of mundane information exchange he asked me if I like to read and what was I reading at that time. I mentioned Wilbur Smith and in an instant we both were transported to a world of animated discussion about his books. It so happened that he was a also a big Wilbur Smith fan and had a few books in his collection. The intended call of 5 mins maximum had stretched to 1 and half hours and we started talking to each other long distance for the next 5 days 1-2 hours on an average everyday! I had gone to Delhi at that time and he was posted in Allahabad. The day I was coming back he made a special trip to Allahabad station armed with 2 Wilbur Smith novels. The train stops at Allahabad station for just 2 mins and it was 10pm – he was trying to give me a surprise but he could not meet me in that hurry. Nonetheless he managed to hand over the books to the ticket checker and requested him to give it to me. He did not have my seat no. – only my name. Imagine my surprise when in the morning the guard hands over two fat Wilbur Smith novels saying some man in Allahabad was looking for me and has given me these books to read. I did not know which emotion was predominant – not being able to meet him in person inspite of his efforts OR getting two new novels of the person whose writing had got me hooked. “
Love for books continue
“We have the entire collection of his novels with us. Vikram’s initial 2-3 books has his name only – but the majority of Wilbur Smith novels have been bought after we met and so in all the books we have our joint names mentioned. It would not be out of place to mention here that all of the books that he has bought after we met has been a gift from him to me. It’s sweet in a way since all of Mr. Smith’s novels are dedicated to his wife (earlier Danielle and now Mokhiniso) and over the years all the books that we own has been gifted by my husband to me. So you can see a trend being maintained by the author and the fan”, quips Mimi. Well, this just shows that couples who read together, stay together.
Talk about the balancing act in a married life, when it comes to books, Mimi adds, “It’s easy. He is a faster reader than I am. So by default I ask him to read it first. And then I get to cherish it on my own time. Though there has been occasions where we are both reading it at the same time and the page marks have got mixed up. But that has not resulted in any argument. We are extremely accommodating when it comes to Wilbur Smith’s novels.”
The Meeting with Wilbur Smith
On 11th December 2011, there was a small advertisement in the paper saying the Wilbur Smith has come on an India tour and will be there in Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj in Delhi at 7pm. Mimi and her husband Vikram saw that and decided to pay him a visit.
Mimi mentions, “We have read about a lot of these celebrity visits which are inordinately delayed and next day being a school day for the two children who are 8 and 4 and half, went with a lot of apprehension as to whether we will actually manage to see him in person.
Mr. Smith walked in at precisely 5mins after 7pm. We till that time could not actually believe that we are actually going to meet the author whom we have adored over a decade and whose writing forms a major part of our bookshelf and headboard!
He was introduced by a representative of the panMacmillan group who were a part of his tour and then Mr. Wilbur Smith took the stage. The next 45 minutes were a complete riot with him sharing his numerous personal experience, some of which were hilarious and some poignant. He is a wonderful speaker and can keep his audience enthralled with his stories. He managed to establish a sense of personal bond with all the people sitting there and when finally we went up to him for signing our books he was thrilled to see that I had a old edition of the River God in my hand in a slightly tattered but bound condition. However, the old book somehow stood out amongst all the glossy covers that he was signing. We did manage to tell him how he has been a part of our love story and our life together to which he asked “Do you have children?” I answered – yes. So he asked me to bring them forth for a photograph because in his words “this is the result of the love that he has managed to cement together between my husband and me!”
After meeting her favourite author, Mimi recounts, “Both Vikram and I came back with such a surreal feeling that it is beyond words. The icing on the cake was that next day was my birthday. There was only one book of his collection that we did not possess and we realized that when we were looking at the book display at Landmark while waiting for him to arrive. Vikram bought that book for me and requested Mr. Smith to sign it as a birthday gift for me. You can imagine my thrill when I realised that. It was an enchanting Sunday evening and a perfect prelude to the birthday, that I will cherish always in my life and will hold it very close to my heart forever.”
What intrigues her about these books
Mimi recounts why she enjoys reading books authored by Wilbur Smith so much, “I got introduced to Africa through his books. The easy manner of telling the story as well as introducing the reader to the social customs, strata of society, the savagery as well and the tenderness of the wild all come together in his writing.
Egypt as a place and its numerous enchanting stories have always intrigued me immensely. His Egyptian novels has been like a boon to my imagination of Egypt and there have been days when I have thought nothing else but the enchanting times of Egypt and whether I, in any of my previous life have been a resident of that place. Such is the power of his writing.
His writing is very picturesque. He manages to transport the reader to the time of the novel with a master stoke of his writing and many a times I have found myself to be one with the characters of the novel. It has happened to me with every book of his, which is not the case with any other author.”
Which book would you recommend?
Wilbur Smith has written a few sagas / series and some individual novels. The Sagas are The Courtneys (7 novels), The Courtneys of Africa (6 novels), The Ballantyne Novels (4 novels), The Egyptian Novels (4 novels). Apart from this he has written 12 more individual novels.
Mimi mentions, “It depends on the kind of reader. I got hooked with an individual novel. Someone may be interested to see how he/ she takes forth the sagas over the many books and time periods; so it a very personal choice. My personal favourite is the River God and The Burning Shore and I think I have read these novels enumerable times and still given a chance I would not hesitate to pick it up again and re read it.”
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