“All that I am is a good Christian, which means I am also a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Jew…” he pauses till his eyes are fixed on a man in turban. “I am also a good Sikh,” he continues, insisting that for God, it is not about religion but about being good or bad.
Wednesday warmed up to many good turns in a conversation with Jozef Banas, Slovak novelist, journalist, diplomat and politician, who was in town for a meet-the-author and reading session of his book Jubelzone (The Zone of Enthusiasm) at Alliance Francaise, Sector 36, Chandigarh.
The 64-year-old writer, who was an active politician both in communist Czechoslovakia and post-communist Slovakia, begins, “I left politics and started writing. My first book, Idiots of Politics (2007), a political satire, became a bestseller. In our country (Slovakia), a book that sells 5,000 copies is a bestseller and almost all my books have sold more than 25,000 copies.”
Banas has penned The Jubilation Zone (2008), Stop Dubcek! (2009), Code 9 (2010), The Rat Season (2011) and Last Infidelity (2012).
The Jubilation Zone, he says, “Is again a political thriller that covers the period of political turmoil in Czechoslovakia (a sovereign state until its dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993). It’s more or less my story. It’s a dramatic story of love and friendship set between 1968 and 2008 and has descriptions of real situations that I borrow from my years as a professional diplomat.”
“In 1968, when freedom came only for two years, I met Thomas Angermann, who came with a volleyball team from West Germany. In August 1969, I went to meet him and he promised to return the following year. But borders were sealed again in 1970. There was no way we could communicate. I only knew three things about him – his name, the place he belonged to and his year of birth. Eventually, in 2005, my daughter tried to find out information about every Thomas in West Germany who was born in 1948. The list of names, obviously, ran into thousands and, as chance would have it, the one Thomas she made a phone call to was the Thomas we were looking for.”
“Thomas suggested that I should pen a book on this reunion. The book also talks about how I fell in love with a Ukrainian woman. It will remind you of times when freedom was not taken for granted. The political background of the book is about the personal experiences of people.”
The book, he says, has been written objectively and does not portray the communist regime in the dark.
Issues such as unemployment and crime were unknown during the communist rule, he writes in the book. “My books generally talk about politics, people living in different political situations and people looking for Jesus,” says the writer who has also received a letter of appreciation for The Jubilation Zone from Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
About his current project, Code 1, he says, “It is a sequel to Code 9. It’s a serious topic set in Kashmir, Israel, Vatican and Slovakia. The protagonist here is searching for traces of Jesus in India.”
Banas, who was accompanied by Professor Amrit Mehta, who has translated his book into Hindi, also delivered a talk at the department of defence and security studies at Panjab University on Thursday.