Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Those Bundles of Papyrus

Recently, I read an intriguing comment on this blog, asking me what my favorite books were.  It has been a while since I have thought about that question.

All my life, I have read a lot of books. I have liked some, but never hated any. Books are the fruits of love and labor, and like you don't scorn someone Else's child, you don't scorn their books either. However, the word "favorite" conjures up a completely different set of emotions. The ones, that come from being awake all night.

I have always divided my books into the ones that can keep me completely oblivious of the need to sleep at night -- and, the ones that don't. One can understand the need to complete the journey, if a voluminous account of an arctic adventure on a sledge through a blizzard, is given in a larger number of pages, than a single night allows to complete. But, the ones that used to keep me awake, were always short stories. Somerset Maugham had a knack for spinning a web around characters, living in the most nondescript islands in the pacific, and keeping me awake till I would find out their fates. One story always ended into another, but the night never did. It was much later, that I got somewhat tired of his stories -- his times suddenly seemed remote, so remote, that I couldn't stretch and touch the characters any more.

The writings of Sir Vidiadhar, have always appealed to me. In spite of the times when he referred to me, and a countless number of my compatriots, as denizens of a land of darkness. I forgave him, for he makes me see the things, that I am otherwise quite blind to.

No other British writer has ever appealed to me, not even the great bard, whose plays, I do like to watch.

Among American writers, Hemingway has always been a favorite. F. Scott Fitzgerald is fun to read, and James Michener, for some reason, makes me reach out to the people across time, that Maugham made too distant to touch.

I have no favorites from the Russian, East European and Latin corners of the world. Not because I don't like reading translations, but because a lot gets lost in translation.

Of all the Indian writers that I have ever read, I have three favorites. R. K. Narayan, though from times that are long gone, stirs the soul. Khushwant Singh, now gone, will forever be the only writer that has scolded me, and made me laugh in the same page. And Ruskin Bond has made me cry -- many times.

Of the new crop of "famous" Indian writers, I don't like any. Some are too bombastic with their choice of words, and some are simply too commercial. Biswanath Ghosh, has great potential, for he writes from his heart, but unlike the great sardar, Mr. Ghosh, seems to have a drink too many, when he writes. He does make me laugh and cry though -- sometimes -- alternately.

One more writer that deserves a special mention, is Shobha De. I have read too many Indian writers who like to impress with what they know. Mrs. De, is quite the opposite -- she lets the reader discover what she already knows. She writes beautifully, and the impact of each word is carefully measured. Her language is deliberately kept simple, something, that the new crop of Indian writers can learn from. Her stories, though sometimes shocking, awake me to some aspects of India, that Sir Vidiadhar was perhaps too reluctant to experience and write about. And, being the gracious writer she is, she always responds to my emails.

Other than Maugham, the only ones that have kept me awake through the night are R. K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond. Both, with their short stories, some of which, have also made me cry.