Nury Vittachi: 'I light fires in dark spots'

October 2008 -

Writer and humorist Nury Vittachi had to leave his homeland Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) because of ethnic clashes between Tamils and Singhalese. His family left for Singapore, lived in Kuala Lumpur and in London, and he has been living in Hong Kong for years now. All those rambles have made him a mediator between east and west.


Nury Vittachi

"I believe all of us, eastern and western, will benefit from knowing more about the real Asia, which looks set to dominate certain aspects of life on Earth out of sheer numbers. I want to show Westerners that Asians are not scary and illogical and impossible to understand—and give Asians the same lesson about Westerners. The west gives the east so much – much of the world's greatest literature, music, and movies. But there are two things the east does better than the west. First, our food is way better than yours, no question about it. Second, we are better at things of the spirit – feng shui, meditation, yoga, etc."

In his classical whodunits about the feng shui detective Mr. Wong Vittachi gives his readers little lessons in eastern philosophy. "Wong is a sexist, racist, and likes to eat small animals, alive if possible! But his own writings reveal that he is in touch with deeper values", he says.
Vittachi is one of the most important initiators of literary cooperation in Asia.

He gives writing lessons and initiated the Asia Literary Review and different literary prizes and festivals. Now he is one of the judges of the new Australia Asia Literary Award, the biggest Asian literary prize ever. Vittachi: "Someone once called me a 'firestarter'. I get projects going – festivals, publishing houses, columns, writing groups, prizes, journals – and then leave them with other people, while I go to light fires in other dark spots. I quite liked that analogy, although it makes me sound a bit more dangerous than I am!"

An extended version of this interview is available in the special Fake

Nury Vittachi will be participating in Winternachten 2009. Winternachten is supported by DOEN Foundation and the Hivos NCDO Culture Fund.