The Dogs Declared War


There is no place for street dogs in a modern city. One must collect them and systematically eliminate them without hurting public sentiments. One may propose methods used in the holocaust, or simple poisoning in the night. But then, what happens when the dogs, utterly desperate, choose to leave the city on their own accord? This short wonder of a novella is far superior and more mature than Nabarun’s more popular works (like Kangal Malsat) in terms of subtlety and depiction of human brutality.

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Cover of the First Edition

It questions the much promoted slogan ‘Safe drive. Save life.’ Whose life to be exact? The crows, the dogs and cats — are they ever a part of the design of the human society? Once the author said in an interview, ‘Like I have the right to live in the city, a mosquito also has a right to bite me.’ From this non-anthropological view, the story forms its basic outline. Some critics compare the dogs with Naxalites whom the state chased and picked up like dogs and killed brutally. But I think, the idea is broader and scarier when applied to the helpless classes of the society.

Lubdhak is the Bengali name of the constellation Canis Major or The Greater Dog. In the novella, it acts as a compass for the helpless dogs. They had to leave the city. Lyka and other famous characters also appear as shadowy ghosts. They talk, they show ways, they predict that an asteroid is en route to destroy the city Kolkata like many such events in the past. That’s why the dogs must leave.

The sarcastic narrative, at times, accompanied by short poems, often goes quite experimental presenting a chapter in form of a bullet points and counterpoints. Sometimes, the narrative shifts from the third person to first person narratives of the animals. The continuously shifting voices give the novella a sense of urgency, a collective cry.

Like Khelna Nagar (Toy City), this one also is a dystopian work and can be termed as one of the major literary achievement in Bengali literature.

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How Ungreen Had My Valley Become!


This is the first installment of my newly-thought-up series called “To Talk About Bangla Books.” Given the fact that Bangla has this huge collection of good literary stuff and I thought why not talk about them in my blog and they just might pique interests of readers and more fortunately, translators!

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The Tale of the Hasuli Turn by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

This is the first novel by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay I read. Set in 1941, the novel explores the sub-tale (upokatha in Bengali. Interesting to note that the author chooses to call this a sub-tale and not a tale/story, in tandem with the civilized world’s disinterest with the “other world”). The story starts with the villagers’ or residents’ worry about a strange particularly loud whistling in the forest every night. Some thought it must be the restless spirit of “Babathakur” (Godfather) who died years ago before setting the place for Kahars (those people were ‘classified’ as Kahar) to live. They were really scared and thinking up ways of sacrifices and worships to please him. Their leader Banowari was in support of this. Things got complicated when Karali, the youth with modern outlook discovered that it was a king cobra and killed it. Later all other condemned him of this sinister act because that snake was Babthakur’s ride (bahan). Say it because of superstition or tradition, but from then on there was continuous tussle between the new and the old, between faith and logic, between unquestioned submission to the known process and the finding out new dangerous ways. And this has set the core tumult in the novel.

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Backcover. Source: Amazon.in

A constant politics is being played at every conversation, at every action, and how natural and fundamental they are in the core rural life where a person’s very existence depends on small decisions he takes in his daily life, can be easily felt in the author’s expert observations and insightful depiction of human mind. The relationship equations of friendships and love are more fundamental to human nature in here and above the normal sense applied to the civilized world.

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Original Bangla Edition

The language is diversely rich with regional variations of Bangla, and most of the times, the narrative is closely linked with the dialogues and thoughts of the characters. It has been repeatedly emphasized in the novel that the war and hunger of outside world will never affect the reclusive bank of Kopai river (shaped like a scythe, hasuli in Bangla. Pretty much reminded me of Marquez’s Macondo). When at the end, during WW2, the sinister military planes flew over their sky and devoured all the trees in which they slowly had constructed their interdependent habitat, when all his (Banowari’s) people betrayed him by leaving their farmlands and joining the factory, one can see how the outside can affect (or ruin) an almost hidden patch of the forest-land in rural Bengal. The influence of the outsider (Karali, slowly became an outsider to the people) is one of the themes in the book. Coetzee’s works e.g. ‘Age of Iron’, ‘Disgrace’ explicitly deal with this theme. The comparision is far-fetched but worth mentioning.

I can safely conclude that this is a hugely original work and it takes some time to get over the dark, mysterious, mesmerizing world of the bend of Kopai river.

This has a translation available, published by Columbia University Press and can be found here .

A pocket-masterpiece: review of A Dog Eat Dog-Food World


A Dog Eat Dog-Food World by C.Suresh was silently published a year ago. A slim book. Only some 90 pages long. But so good that I couldn’t ignore reviewing it.

I had read it when it was published and then read again a few months back. And I realized that when your view about a book changes drastically upon multiple readings, it must be too layered to be understood in the first read. Hence, though I did write a short review on Goodreads a year ago, I think, it deserves a more elaborate treatment.

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The book starts with a declaration that it is a pseudo-history, i.e. what would have happened if the things that would happen in the book were true. In other words, an alternate history. To give a sense of the period in which the book is set, the narrator says,

Incidentally, difficult though it must be to believe, the world was not always run by computers and a cell-phone was not something that could only be removed from the body by surgery.

This is a story of an entrepreneur, about how too much money and boredom caused him to start a business, where he hoped he’d be able to spend all his money. Here, the author doesn’t forget to mildly poke fun at the wealth distribution in the world:

People with no money knew what to do with the money, which they did not possess, but people with money seemed merely to be burdened by it. Something was seriously wrong with the disbursal system in Heaven.

Anyway, to find the right business Spike Fortune (yes, what a name!) recruited his nephew Jerry. And thus the concept of boss and subordinate came.

“You are not paid to think, Jerry! Just do as you are told.” Spike did not realize that he had just set the conversational trend for all employers for some time to come.

And what was the business? Yes, as the title suggests, the dog-food! And here, the author brings out some excellent descriptions which are humorous, vivid and full of allusions.

Thus brooding, Jerry moodily kicked at the ground – as human beings are wont to do when they are unable to kick the reason for their worry. Only, the ground seemed a bit squashy and, before Jerry could even take that message in, his entire horizon was full of teeth and fur and a deafening growl.

[…]

When the barking turned suddenly into a duet, he looked around to find a stout middle-aged man also barking at him. It was then that he realized that a chain connected the dog and the man, which meant that one of them was the other’s pet. But for that chain, Jerry would have been minus a nose by now.

[…]

Jerry froze. Had he been a character in a comic, a bright light would have lit up above his head. Then, he jumped up yelling unoriginally, “Eureka”, tripped over the hot water tub and fell down full length. Unlike Archimedes, who got his idea in his bath, Jerry had a bath on getting his idea, with the contents of the hot water tub inundating him.

You get the idea.

There are more on employer-employee relations and office politics. Like appearance of effort is more important than the effort itself.

He was happy that Jerry had done enough work to write a big report but it was too much to expect that he should have to do the work of reading it.

“What is this?”

“The project report for the business, Uncle”, said Jerry.

“Throw that crap down the chute. What does it say? What is the business?”

“D.. D.. Dog foods”, said Jerry, thereby creating the world’s first executive summary.

First thing that happened after the introduction of the cat food, apart from huge sell of the product, was the division of class based on having dog-food.

Also, of course, dog-lovers had now become stratified into the upper class of those who fed dog foods to their dogs and the lower class of those who did not.

And as often happens, when one business flourishes, other similar businesses open up and become rivals. Cat-food Inc was born. The rival was Tom, Spike’s childhood friend. To keep score against your rival, what you do? You come up with market research. And thus, scientific market research came into being. They surveyed the customers and they found that the dog-owners’ responses to their dog-foods were based on how the owners’ days had gone, not whether the dogs liked it. Subtly, the author hints at the real face of market-research; it is more about how the customer feels than how the actual consumer feels.

“My Rosie… she is so cute… when I give her the food, she licks it… so daintily you know… then rolls her eyes like she is in Heaven… then… she is so clever… she gets her tongue around one morsel and.. crunch… she just loves that sound…” and so on and so forth. From which, the young men came to the conclusion, quite rightly, that the entire process of Rosie’s meal was the highlight of her owner’s day. Though it said nothing much about Rosie’s preferences or about what the dog enjoyed the most.

As expected, slowly but inadvertently, the concept of advertising came next. Not only it shows the rise of advertising in every corner of our life, trying to get our attention as much as possible, it also shows how it affects our thinking.

Within a couple of months, not a citizen in the country could walk the streets safe from a soulful dog looking down on him from a hoarding and saying, ‘Won’t you get me DogFood Inc’s dog food, please!”

[…]

Nor were the scrap-feeders spared the ignominy of having their nefarious activities exposed. The pick of the hoardings was of a sweet dog gazing longingly at DogFood Inc’s dog food, while a brutal man tugged at its leash. The speech balloon above the dog said,” Please! I want DogFood Inc’s dog food.” The speech balloon above the man’s head was, “You dumb brute! Don’t think I am going to pamper you.”

[…]

Every time they fed their dogs leftovers, they felt like that brutal man who denied his poor dog the chance to eat good food. Every time they looked at their dogs, it seemed as though they were looking accusingly at them and complaining of ill-treatment. They had to give in.

Similarly, the corporate jargon emerged, to show an utterly simple matter in a complicated language. “Incomprehensibility is wisdom” – seemed the mantra. No wonder management degrees have such high demand.

Later, they went on to advertise the idea of dog as a protector or cat as a mice-eater. Glorifying dogs would glorify its keepers i.e. the owners. In other words, whatever is good for the dog was good for the owner. On closer inspection, you see, such things are shown everywhere – be it a smartphone company or a deodorant manufacturer. Having a smartphone means you’re smart, applying a particular deodorant makes you a real man.

The dog-show, like a tech-fest, did just that.

To win prizes in dog shows bestowed an aura on the winners that almost rivalled Royalty. The erstwhile door-to-door salesmen worked to such good effect that the entire country did all the other trivial jobs associated with living in Society – like agriculture – in the brief intervals between dog shows.

It doesn’t end here. This concept is further broadened later – to spread the goodness of feeding your dog the proper food throughout the world – and voila, we have the concept of colonization.

The crowning glory would come when it started determining what you ought to wish for and thrust it on you.

The concept of a product can be rooted so deep that it can give rise to racism. The companies decided to label a particular pet for a particular class, and thereby, a particular type of food for that pet. This is another name of – you know it very well – market segmentation. Persian cat was for high class society, the alley cat for utilitarian. Strangely, due to presence some rare nutrients in Persian cat-food, it was priced three times more. Division of such classes led to:

Lady 1: “Oh! Alvin is here! What a perfect Pekinese man! And his wife Dora is such a happy person, as who would not be when married to Alvin”

Lady 2: “Do you know what he has gone and done? Bought an Alsatian!”

Lady 1: “No, really? The fellow has hidden predatory instincts, then? Wouldn’t be surprised if he beats his wife. I always thought that Dora must be hiding her unhappiness. She smiles too brightly.”

Lady 2: “You never can trust appearances these days”

Or,

“Ellen never did know how to bring up children. Heard what her eldest has done? Married a Balinese owner.”

“Oh! Thrown over Peter, has she? Such a perfect boy – good Persian owner stock. What are these young girls coming to?”

“I blame Ellen. If she does not get a hold on her children, her second daughter may end up marrying a dog-owner.”

Both ladies would then look at each other with horrified pleasure.

The corporate became so powerful that they started affecting the government and had it amend laws that would help them. This is a hint to capitalism which later at the final sentence is alluded by, “The invisible hand has writ and, having writ, moved on. Now, we are all left staring aghast at the writing on the wall!”

So we see that though on surface it seems a mere fun story of how two rivals of pet-food compete, many darker, more complicated issues are subtly hidden underneath. And only upon carefully studying these lines, one would be able to truly appreciate how layered this deceptively simple looking novella is.

After a long time, I have read a work of satire that is so good that it can stand proudly with other great satirical works. I am quite amazed about this little masterpiece and I hope that a work like this would be widely read and appreciated.

Telegram, a potential new literary magazine .



I don’t write reviews of magazines, but I want to make an exception for this one. Tons of online lit-mags are coming out every month and most of them are of sub-standard quality in terms of content, design and editing. Telegram, on the other hand, stands out as a magazine exclusively devoted to literature.

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To review Telegram, I’ll take one issue (September Issue) as a sample and give an overall reaction.

It contains a balanced mix of poetry, short stories, reviews, discussions and non-fiction articles related to literature, music and art in general. It also has a fun quiz section on literature.

The theme for September is Cityscape; stories that are connected to your hometown, stories where cities become characters. All the stories have successfully achieved this. There is Bus Route 86 by Percy Wadiwala which describes Mumbai in the span of a bus ride. Its cricket, its humdrum, its buildings and corners – everything come into life as the narrator remembers his childhood city and the city now, how it has changed over years. Parallel to this cityscape, there runs another story, story of a failed love and tussle between two friends, powered by ego and politics. The end is both surprising and apt. A fine piece of fiction.

Prayag by Nilesh Mondal tells a person’s experience in a new city via a letter sent to a friend who has never tried to become intimate with her city. Madras and Pondichery come to life as the narrator describes his experiences at both places, and how he has fallen in love with the new city more than his hometown. This story is both description-wise beautiful – you get to experience all the five senses – and effective to incite the urge to know your city, to feel home with it. The result is a satisfying and nostalgic read.

Local Politician by Abhyudaya Shrivastava is a humorous take on a local politician during a bus ride. The hypocrisy is brought out brilliantly, in a way that is not at all offensive.

The poems go with the same rhythm like short fictions. Augmented Reality and Souvenir are the poems I loved. The Home I Left is a long poem wonderfully written that chronicles the journey of a city as it grows old. It reminded of a poem by Jibanananda Das which starts like: “I am walking for a thousand years…”

The discussion on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and the study of the relationship between madness and literature is surprisingly insightful. I did not anticipate such a well researched article. It should be noted that Mrs Dalloway is often compared and discussed along with Jane Eyre and Wild Sargasso Sea. A few interesting observations could have been added to the article then.

A detailed and well written review of Persopolis is also there in the issue. Glad to see a graphic novel getting place in the magazine.

I was saving the cover story for the last, because I think it is of huge importance. The cover story on the upcoming Indian music bands is very informative and an example of good journalism. I like to mention that the article on JNU published in the July issue is also a very good one. I enjoyed reading that. There is a humour and truth in the reports, making them quite engaging.

One thing I like to suggest is to include one or two lines about the contributors after the index page or at the end of each piece.

Overall, I like to say that a magazine like this gives me hope that something good is happening in Indian literature. I believe, if it keeps up this quality, it’ll see bright days in its future. I have become a regular reader of this magazine.

Review: Neon Noon


Lately, I have not been able to read as much as I was reading earlier this year. Among the two books I read in last four weeks, this one is something that I’d read again. I have been following Tanuj Solanki’s stories online at many places and going by the quality of those, I had a high expectation from his debut. And this book delivered.

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As a writer, or better say as an aspiring writer ‘who knows he can’t write but still writes’ this book has resonated with me on many levels. So after reading it the first time, I went on to read it the second time.

This is a book about the making of a writer, his struggle to express what he feels, his attempts to come to terms with love and literature.

The book starts with a short story (a brilliant one at that) by another budding writer sent to the protagonist of the novel for beta-reading. The protagonist is introduced in his intermediate stage of being in a relation and going to PATTAYA (the place where most of the events happen) in this short story. In the book it is said somewhere that the beginning of a work should not be The Beginning or The End, but something that says nothing yet says a lot. This story acts as a perfect introduction to the novel. It is kind of stylish. I have not seen such introduction of characters. You may read ‘The Other Room’ online. I think it was published independently as a story.

Next, the book goes back to the love life of the protagonist. It is told in flashbacks. And it is done marvelously. The author never tries to draw an elaborate picture, but rather provides small details in fragments. This is how a person remembers his past; in fragments. His lover is from France. He tries to learn French so that the barrier of language can’t be there between them anymore. And in trying to learn it, we see the writer in him is slowly developing. The parallel description of past and artistic development is done so fluently that I wonder at the apparent lucidity of the book.

But this is a very complex book, written word by word, carefully.

After this comes part 2 of the book, titled as ‘The Bachelor’. This is my favourite part. This has small segments that step by step show the post-breakup emotional blockage and the Bachelor’s tryst to create literature. His attempt to find a way by which he can transform his pain into literature. He finally writes something near the end, a thought, a bitter truth. A realization. And he cries after writing that down. I’ll quote those lines:

“Interred deep within the labyrinth of my inner life is a masterpiece, though I shall require a talent as good as an oil rig to make it gush forth, and even then my broken imagination may prove to be that faulty little part, that worn-out-safety-valve, that allows everything to spill and burn, and then all we would have would be the silent ashes of my masterpiece, though that shouldn’t bother me much, for floating ashes are what all masterpieces end up as.”


At the end, the Bachelor writer says, “I’m such a compulsive archivist of myself.” I think it is said to show the pride and contentment of a young writer who realizes something important and ready to go forth writing, no matter how difficult it is.

The pivotal part of this novel is the 3rd chapter, Neon Noon. The protagonist goes to Pattaya, mainly in search of sex. By then, he has an idea of a novel where the protagonist would be a half-Indian half-French, his son, and a great poet. He will be caught up in finding his true identity, where he belongs, and will therefore shuttle from one continent to another. The son can be interpreted in many ways. One of them is that the son is actually the fruit of the protagonist’s artistic imagination, a work that would provide him all the answers he has been searching. The part about meeting Orhan in Pattaya confirms this. When he says, “In this city of pleasure, pain has suffered genocide”, it has a deep impact on the writer/protagonist. It reminded him that, just searching for sex or solace or pleasure would not provide him what he wants. It is the girl Noon who shows him that even after a heart-break one has the capability to love again. Note that the emphasis is on capability. This is an important point and builds the culmination point of the novel. Meeting Noon, and then realizing he has the ability to fall in love with her, and after falling for her, being able to come to terms with yet another heartbreak make him realise the difference between being in love and being able to love. The book ends with him tearing the photo of his ex-girlfriend and wanting Noon to see that. This shows that he has finally moved on, after accepting his version of life, literature and love.

Solanki’s style is new, but not showy. It has a certain air of confidence and you’d never feel the story is written by a debutante. I look forward to his future work with an ardent interest.

I would recommend this book for readers with an affinity to subtle and intelligent literature.

P.S. I have bought the hardcover version of the book and this is an unbiased review.

On Beloved


A year ago, I tried to read this book, and left it. I was not familiar with magical realism and modernist writing. It was too difficult for me. Even now, the essence of such writing eludes me. But from whatever knowledge I gained from reading a lot for a year, I can now appreciate the importance of this book.

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Beloved is probably the most complex novel by Morrison. The plot, the characters, the setting, the language—everything is very complex.

Right from the beginning it is obvious how ambitious Morrison is with this book. She set out to write a masterpiece, a novel so important and horrifying and beautiful that it gained her the recognition of a great writer. And undoubtedly she is.

To give an idea about how meticulously Morrison drew the book, (yes, she drew, not wrote), let’s discuss the significance of a simple thing: the number ‘124’, the identification of the haunted house. Quoting Morrison:

It was important to name this house, but not the way “Sweet Home” or other plantations were named. There would be no adjectives suggesting coziness or grandeur or the laying claim to an instant, aristocratic past. Only numbers here to identify the house while simultaneously separating it from a street or city—marking its difference from the houses of other blacks in the neighborhood; allowing it a hint of the superiority, the pride, former slaves would take in having an address of their own. Yet a house that has, literally, a personality—which we call “haunted” when that personality is blatant.


On one symbolic level, the numbers 1 + 2 + 4 add up to 7, the number of letters on Beloved’s [B-E-L-O-V-E-D : 7] headstone. In Christian lore, the number 7 represents charity, grace, and the Holy Spirit, as well as completion and perfection. As we will see later in the novel, Beloved’s death signified the end of all of these elements in both Sethe’s life and the life of her family. The family became incomplete and imperfect. The number 124 emphasizes this incompleteness when examined sequentially. The number 3 is missing from the sequence, just as Sethe’s third child (Beloved) is missing from the family. A more complicated arithmetic equation denotes Sethe’s arrival at Sweet Home and her selection of Halle as her husband, an act that leads to four children, doubling of one into two and two into four.
[Courtesy: Cliff-notes]

 

Then comes Water: something that recurs repetitively throughout the novel. Denver was born in Water, Beloved comes out of the Water and when returns to Sethe, drinks four cups of water. Water is sometimes seen as a veil between this world and the other world. Water simultaneously symbolizes life and death. That line I’ll never forget: “A fully dressed woman walked out of the water.” Wow!

Feet are also significant in portraying freedom and love and sanity. Paul D reminds how many feet Sethe had: two, not four. Indicating what she did was animallike. Beloved’s baby-steps were marked portraying freedom. Sixo’s feet were cooked first; signifying death of another slave.

This book is full of such things (colors, manhood and more). I can go on for pages after pages showing how brilliantly she manages to do so much within mere 320 pages.

The following is not only a description of corn:

The jealous admiration of the watching men melted with the feast of new corn they allowed themselves that night. Plucked from the broken stalks that Mr. Garner could not doubt was the fault of the raccoon. Paul F wanted his roasted; Paul A wanted his boiled and now Paul D couldn’t remember how finally they’d cooked those ears too young to eat. What he did remember was parting the hair to get to the tip, the edge of his fingernail just under, so as not to graze a single kernel.
The pulling down of the tight sheath, the ripping sound always convinced her it hurt.
As soon as one strip of husk was down, the rest obeyed and the ear yielded up to him its shy rows, exposed at last. How loose the silk. How quick the jailed-up flavor ran free.
No matter what all your teeth and wet fingers anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you.
How loose the silk. How fine and loose and free.

The narration is stunning and beautiful. Innovative. Sublime, too. I learned a lot about language and how to handle it from this book.

Saying all this, I’ll say this is not the best work of Morrison in terms of language. This is the most important book, no doubt, but in a few scenes when emotionally disturbing events come into play, I felt she overdid with poeticism (only a few times, though), trying too hard to make the reader feel things, which is, well, not an example of great art to me. I’d say, in terms of language and narration, Love is a better book.

Till now I have read some five books by Morrison and this one will remain one of the most memorable books I have ever read.

A.S. Byatt rightly said: “A magnificent achievement.”

Magnificent, indeed.

Even the trailer of the movie gives me chills.

 

A Forgotten Indian Masterpiece: All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani


It is matter of utter despair that a book like this, of such caliber and quality, is long forgotten. This is the first major attempt to break the pure English and mix it with oriental colloquial. Desani did something for Indian literature as Joyce did for Irish literature. Though Desani never wrote another novel, and though he published few short stories and a poem (Hali) apart from this, he was immediately recognized by the likes of T.S. Eliot and Saul Bellow.

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This novel is essentially a polyglot one, but it goes on to break the general assumption that anything polyglot is bound to be difficult (the major reason of this, obviously, none other than Finnegans Wake). I have never read a funnier book than this. Desani’s innovative play with words makes you read a page again and again and chuckle each time.

The reviewer at the Los Angeles Times rightly says,

“”I write rigmarole English,” Desani taunts, “staining your goodly, godly tongue.” Bless him, he does mash it up, bending orthography, stretching syntax, mixing in shards of Hindi, Hungarian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, German and a goodly dose of balderdash, whilst tossing in references to Whitman, Shakespeare, Socrates, Freud and appeals to Kama and Laxmi as well as to Allah and Christ. Only a quasi-outsider (an Irishman, say) could have such an irreverent ear for the Anglo-Saxon tongue. But “Hatterr” is more readable by miles than “Finnegans Wake,” and a lot more fun.

 

To introduce to the style of this novel, let me quote H. Hatterr (Desani) himself in chapter III, page 120.

(…Wherefore, pious brethren, by confessing I lie, yoiks! I tell the truth, sort of topholy trumpeting-it, by the Pharisee G.V. Desani: see the feller’s tract All About …, publisher, the same publishing company): a language deliberately designed to mystify the majority, tempt ‘em to start guessing, and interpreting our real drift, and allegory, what the hell we mean: pursue our meaning on their sthula (gross), the sukshana (subtle) and para (supreme) planes, and levels, and still miss the issue and dash their heads against the crazy-paved rock of confusion.

We are getting the drift. Though the book seems pointless rambling (allusion to one of the characters in the book Y. Rambeli .. Why rambling?) of a person who loses in every adventure he goes to, the book is intricately structured. To quote from the paper: Chaudhury, Sarbani. “All About H. Hatterr – Desani’s ‘Novel Gesture’.” Glocal Colloquies 1.1 (2015): 38-53 .

The subterranean method in madness, mentioned earlier, becomes more pronounced as we encounter the making of fiction. Despite his numerous disclaimers, Desani’s novel-gesture (as I shall persist in calling it) has a rigorous structure: the two epigraphs labelled “Warning!”, and the production account followed by a “Mutual Introduction” of the inscribed author (Hatterr), serve as a kind of combined prologue for the seven chapters recounting Hatterr’s encounter with the seven sages. The rear is brought up by an epilogue labelled “An Afterthought” supposedly penned by another fictional character in the work, a lawyer who, as mentioned previously, prefixes the pompous title of “504 SrimanVairagi, Paribrajaka, Vanaprasthi, Acharya” to his more simple but nevertheless comic name “YatiRambeli” (giganticbelly) to suit the lofty task of providing a worthy defence for the hapless Hatterr. Apart from undermining the very defence it intends to uphold, the ‘naming ceremony’ is a dig at the aristocrats’ and god-men’s tendency to legitimise and iterate their political/ religious status by claiming a long line of descent from royal/ holy forbears.

Seven chapters form the main stay of the book where Hatterr, seeking lucre, lust and illumination, encounters seven sages across India who take on increasingly presumptuous names as the work progresses – sages of Calcutta, Rangoon (now resident in India), Madras, Bombay, “right Honourable sage of Delhi,” “wholly worshipful of Mogalsarai-Varanasi” and “naked Holiness number One, the Sage of All India himself!” – matching the ludicrousness of the ‘life experience’ encountered and the lesson learned thereof. Save for one, where Hatterr gains a princely sum of Rs 1000/- (Chapter IV), all the escapades conclude in inevitable disaster with Hatterr, very much the modern prototype of the ‘gull’ in classical drama, barely escaping by the skin of his teeth.

Each of the seven chapters is given an intriguing and often half-finished title – Chapter I. “The Sage, He Spake…,” Chapter II. “…Versus the Impressario,” Chapter III. “Archbishop Walrus versus Neophyte the Bitter-One,” Chapter IV.“Apropos Supernatural Agent…,” Chapter V. “Assault below the Belt,” Chapter VI. “…Salute the ‘Kismet’” and, Chapter VII. “Punchum and Another, with Contempt” – that literalise the ensuing content. For instance, Chapter V. “Assault below the Belt,” is literally an assault on Hatterr’s loincloth by a demented Naga sanyasi to relieve Hatter of his hidden stash of money so as to release him from the clutches of “Evil-Triumphant” green monster (223)!

To show you some example of ultra-creativity of Desani, few small excerpts are presented below.

Excerpt 1:

” The name is H. Hatterr, and I am continuing… 

Biologically, I am fifty-fifty of the species. 

One of my parents was a European,

Christian-by-faith merchant merman (seaman). From which part of the Continent? Wish I could tell you. The other was an Oriental, a Malay Peninsula-resident lady, a steady non-voyaging, non-Christian human (no mermaid). From which part of the Peninsula? Couldn’t tell you either.

Barely a year after my baptism (in white, pure and holy), I was taken from Penang (Malay P.) to India (East). It was there that my old man kicked the bucket in a hurry. The via media? Chronic malaria and pneumonia-plus.

Whereupon, a local litigation for my possession ensued.

The odds were all in favour of the India-resident Dundee-born Scot, who was trading in jute.

He believed himself a good European, and a pious Kirk o’ Scotland parishioner, whose right-divine Scotch blud mission it was to rescue the baptised mite me from any illiterate non-pi heathen influence. She didn’t have a chance, my poor old ma, and the court gave him the possession award.

I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe, she lives. Who cares?

Rejoicing at the just conclusion of the dictate of his conscience, and armed with the legal interpretation of the testament left by my post-mortem seaman parent, willing I be brought up Christian, and the court custody award, the jute factor had me adopted by an English Missionary Society, as one of their many Oriental and mixed-Oriental orphan-wards. And, thus it was that I became a sahib by adoption, the Christian lingo (English) being my second vernacular from the orphan-adoption age onwards.

The E.M. Society looked after me till the age of fourteen or thereabouts.

It was then that I found the constant childhood preoccupation with the whereabouts of my mother unbearable, the religious routine unsuited to my temperament, the evangelical stuff beyond my ken, and Rev. the Head (of the Society’s school), M.A., D.Litt., D.D., also C.B.E., ex-Eton and Cantab. (Moths, Grates, and Home Civ), Protor par excellence, Feller of the Royal Geographical, Astronomical and Asiastic Societies (and a writer!), too much of a stimulus for my particular orphan constitution. (The sort of loco parentis who’d shower on you a penny, and warn you not to squander it on woman, and wine, and
song!)

“Help others! Help others!” he used to say. Knowing that the most deserving party needing help was self, I decided to chuck the school, get out into the open spaces of India, seek my lebansraum, and win my bread and curry all on my own.

And one warm Indian autumn night, I bolted as planned, having pinched, for voluntary study, an English dictionary, the Rev. the Head’s own-authored ‘Latin Self-Taught’ and ‘French Self-Taught’, the Missionary Society’s school stereoscope complete with slides (my second love after my mother) and sufficient Missionary funds lifted from the Head’s pocket to see me through life.

From that day onwards, my education became free and my own business. I fought off the hard-clinging feelings of my motherlessness. I studied the daily press, picked up tips from the stray Indian street-dog as well as the finest Preceptor-Sage available in the land. I assumed the style-name H. Hatterr (‘H’ for the nom de plume ‘Hindustaaniwalla’, and ‘Hatterr’, the nom de guerre inspired by Rev. the Head’s too-large-for-him-hat), and, by and by (autobiographical I, which see), I went completely Indian to an extent few pure non-Indian blood sahib fellers have done.

I have learnt from the school of Life; all the lessons, the sweet, the bitter, and the middling messy. I am debtor both to the Greeks and the Barbarians. And, pardon, figuratively speaking, I have had higher education too. I have been the personal disciple of the illustrious grey-beards, the Sages of Calcutta, Rangoon (now resident in India), Madras, Bombay, and the right Honourable the Sage of Delhi, the wholly Worshipful of Mogalsarai-Varanasi, and his naked Holiness Number One, the Sage of All India himself!’ (pg. 31-33).

 

Excerpt 2:

PRESUMPTION: ‘Kismet’, i.e., fate — if at all anything, and as potent as suspected for centuries — is a dam’ baffling thing!
It defies a feller’s rational: his entire conception as to his soma, pneuma, and psyche!
Why did a feller like me commit matrimony with a femme fatale like Mrs H. Hatterr (née Rialto), the waxed Kiss-curl?
A personal query, but I don’t mind answering…
If only I could!
All I know is that I wanted to raise a family: add to the world’s vital statistics and legitimate: have a niche in the community, for my own kid, to hand out the wager till the end. And since you can’t achieve this without a wife — the neighbours wouldn’t let you! the police wouldn’t let you! — I equipped myself with the blarney-phrases, convinced this female that she was real jam, had me led to the middle aisle and gave the ready ‘I do’ to the amenwallah her brother had hired for the occasion.
This I did, knowing, hell, that between us was all the temperamental difference in the world!
Till death us do part! this museum-piece and I! And that promise — what a stingo! — after a conflict dating back to the donkey’s Sundays!
The female — contrast? — was poles apart: though, between the cur Jenkins, me and the Duke Humphrey, it did seem once that she was going to win my regards for good, by delivering me an heir-presumptive — my own piccolo le fils — to survive me (and be added to the looney-bin). But despite days and days of biological observation and anticipation — the wasted reference to the obstetric table and pre-occupation with the signs of labour — it didn’t come off. (Backed the wrong filly, or, maybe, something the matter with me as create-or!).

 

After writing this novel, Desani got deeply involved with spirituality and Buddhism and didn’t publish another book. He nonetheless inspired Rushdie to take the lead and expound upon the newly invented babu-vernacular and write another Indian masterpiece, Midnight’s Children (Rushdie’s essay “Damme, This Is the Oriental Scene for You!” is based upon this very novel).

I wanted to type and present few more wonderful excerpts but what can I do? Every single page of this book is shouting brilliance and I can’t choose! Desani was so sure about the importance and genius of this work that he had the following conversation with Khushwant Singh:

“Can you recommend me for the Nobel Prize?”

Khushwant was dumb struck: “But you’ve only written that one book!”

“So?” countered Desani softly, “Eliot’s written very little also!”

“Only Nobel winners can recommend others,” Khushwant protested weakly, taken aback by Desani’s total lack of modesty.

“No, even the Government can”, insisted Desani steadfastly.

Worn down by his persistence and ingenuous self-belief, Khushwant meekly signed the forms. Nothing came of it of course. The Nobel Committee checked with Dr.Radhakrishnan, Ambassador to Sweden and a nominee for the Nobel at the time. Totally unamused, he ticked Khushwant off roundly and Desani continued to live with his inconvenient loo across the courtyard until he took off for the Orient.

(source: http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/user/319051.html)

I’ll end my discussion about the book with the praises about it by the greats:

Anthony Burgess: “…it is the language that makes the book. . . . It is not pure English; it is like Shakespeare, Joyce, and Kipling, gloriously impure.”

T.S. Eliot: “… Certainly a remarkable book. In all my experience, I have not met anything quite like it. It is amazing that anyone should be able to sustain a piece of work in this style and tempo at such length.”

C.E.M. Joad : “… an original and remarkable book. It starts well and continues at the same level … to my surprise … the gusto, tempo and style all being maintained until the end.”

Edmund Blunden : “… Something remarkable here by this most curious and resourceful among writers. I can’t think anybody who pays attention will miss that.”

Saul Bellow : “I didn’t read many books while writing Augie. One I did read and love was All About H. Hatterr…. So, what about All About? I hate to be siding with T.S. Eliot… but what can you do?”

Salman Rushdie: “This is the ‘babu English,’ the semi-literate, half-learned English of the bazaars, transmuted by erudition, highbrow monkeying around, and the impish magic of Desani’s unique phrasing and rhythm into an entirely new kind of literary voice.”

Damme, buy the book!