Return of Gussie Fink Nottle
Some of you may have my earlier adventures in Gussie’s avatar when I gave out the prizes in a village school we had adopted as part of our CSR activities. For the newbie, here is the link
Now once again I had an invitation from a school to attend their literature day as a chief guest.
It happened like this. The principal of an international school is a loyal follower of my blog and has actually read almost everything that I have written. She has also read my book and admired it greatly and has shared her opinion and appreciation of the book in particular and my writing in general on the social media. Totally flattered on having an intelligent articulate attractive young lady fan, we were in touch through social media.
Incidentally, a great many more women read than men, and they also comment and express their appreciation, often getting in touch with the author. This is one of the major perks of writing and a superb incentive to aging nerds like me.
Her school was celebrating a literary week where they invite an author to give an inspiring speech, and decided to invite me this year. Thrilled at the prospect of being recognised as a writer, I gladly accepted.
I anguished over what to wear, and remembering gussie and the split trouser theory, I gave ethnic wear a miss, thus avoiding entertaining the students with wardrobe malfunctions, as dhotis and churidars have a nasty habit of unravelling at inopportune moments; and stuck to sober casuals.
Fortified with plain orange juice I landed up at the impressive sprawling premises of the residential school, a little way outside the city. As I was ushered to the principal’s room, the memories of being sent up to see the principal came surging out of the unconscious, creating flutters in the stomach. There were a few young thugs waiting outside the boss’s lair, but they seemed unperturbed by the imminent interview. Perhaps the ubiquitous cane having been eliminated from the proceedings have resulted in such sangfroid.
The principal’s room was huge, much larger than mine, but it was not manned by a fire breathing ogre nine feet high in a cassock and a front to back collar; but a petite demure lady in a sari, whose rimless glasses were the only severe aspect and kept me from being flippant and flirtatious.
I was taken around the campus on a tour. The boys’ hostel evoked strong feelings of nostalgia. I even entered that place I had often dreamt of visiting in my misspent youth; the girls’ hostel. Needless to say, the children were in class and not in the dorms. A couple of boys were flushed out from under a tree outside the girls’ hostel and sent packing, after hearing their lame excuses for their presence there. My heart went out to the poor blighters.
I then inspected some kids dressed as literary characters and looking miserable, all except mowgli, who was prancing around in his briefs and happily living up to the role of the wild jungle man cub without fear of reprisal from the teachers.
We proceeded to the auditorium and a surprise awaited me. There, among the decorations with literary themes, were three larger than life drawings; at the centre of which, flanked by Shakespeare and Wordsworth, was a replica of my book cover. I felt like the golf crazy Russian poet in one of plums golf stories, who thought that only Tolstoy and Shakespeare were any good, and comparable to him, and Wodehouse was tolerable, and the rest were rubbish.
Thoroughly pleased and embarrassed, I stoically sat through the performances of the much suffering volunteers, and the student body suffered them glumly, with bored clapping appreciating the end of individual bits. Only glitches were loudly appreciated.
Finally the dreaded moment came, and I had to earn my lunch. As the final item, the patience of the audience was stretched thin, and I had to tread cautiously, armed only with coconut water pick me ups.
Once again, forewarned by Gussie, I steered well clear of motivational talks. Instead, to give credence to my status as an author, I told them a story. To ensure total comprehension, I requested the vernacular language teacher to translate along in the local language, using all colloquialisms.
I made the story as politically incorrect as I could get away with, keeping the students happy, with a hidden message of tolerance and inclusiveness which would mollify the teachers. I acted, pranced, made animal noises and generally played the fool. Soon, the roars of laughter and appreciation that would be a match to the reception of Gussies speech came as music to my ears, and I could see the teachers smiling too.
After the speech I had a photo session with the kids and there was a mad scramble to shake my hands and take my autograph. A young lady wanted me to sign her shirt, but I dissuaded her warning her of her mother’s reaction, when she persuaded me to sign her hand.
This was my five minutes of fame promised to every citizen in this century. I briefly knew what rock stars feel all the time.
This is the story I told them, although altered to suit the mood.
Category Archives: novella
This is what a member of the Wodehouse fans club wrote to the group
Hi friends. I was waiting at my orthopedic Doctor’s clinic yesterday. The Doc was late by an hour. There were about 10 patients waiting impatiently. I was the only person happily engrossed in reading a Book ,with an occasional smile on my lips.I was oblivious about the strange looks given by other patients since I appeared to be least bothered about the delay. This was told by the receptionist who was watching all this and was quite amused.
Any guess about the Book?
Well, apparently every one in the group would say “PG of course. ”
But it was not PG for a change, it was this Book. 👇🏻
This is a story about how I acquired this nasty addiction to writing. I am merely trying to shift the blame. As an apology for inflicting my stories on you, here I inflect another one.
Having an insatiable appetite for stories, and finding that supply is unable to match demand, I decided to fill the gap by making up stories himself. This is how that happened
My fascination with words began early, perhaps not as early as Abhimanyu, as I don’t remember anything prenatal, but soon afterwards. I was fortunate in a literate ayah, who was my major childhood influence, and a literary mom, who had a sizable library at home. To keep me quiet, the babysitter would read to me from anything available, including Bangla translations of the English classics, and the Bengali Mahabharata. After such a classical grounding, I could not help but be a lifelong addict to the magic world of fantasy and fiction, initially oral, and later of the printed word.
But addictions have fatal side effects, and I became quite useless at all useful skills of survival. I wasn’t focused on studies and my handwriting made me suitable only for the medical profession. I learnt to read, so that he wouldn’t have to wheedle others to read for me, and was a very precocious reader, forcing my parents to hide books in unconventional places, and put covers on some. That’s how I knew which to read first, and in secret.
The inevitable next step was joining the ranks of my heroes, and start writing myself. Writing was fine, but I faced the problem of all would be authors, how to get readers? I had a captive audience in my family, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t decipher my writing. Solution – a little brother I could bully, who would copy it out for me.
Thus was born my first collection, containing humour, parody, rhymes, mystery stories inspired by Blyton and later Christie, war stories when the ’72 war captured my imagination, and even plays.
Jump cut to high school. Obliging friends copied out my stories for a hand written wall magazine in exchange for doing their maths homework, and other obliging friends copied out pieces for their first handwritten cyclostyled little magazine, edited and mostly ghost written by me in exchange for names on the masthead to impress girls. Believe it or not, bong girls fall for such stuff.
Fast forward to the 80s. Handwritten contributions are no longer acceptable, and typing is a skill I had failed to master. However, obliging young ladies willing to support the arts helped out, and college, university, and company magazines continue to feed my need to be heard. That’s how my partner-to-be first heard of me.
Working life and matrimony soon put all creativity on a backburner, until my children appeared on the scene, and mealtime, bedtime and anytime stories took care of all my creative juices, and was well within my technical knowhow.
As time passed, I hankered for a wider audience. By now, I was empowered with a stenographer, and a bit of charm could overcome my tech handicap, and double spaced typed offerings with self addressed envelopes haunted editorial desks and found kind supporters like Jug Suraiya of TOI and others kindred and discerning souls.
I had the ultimate high, seeing my babies in print with my by-line , and being paid for it.
Soon, work and family took precedence, and creativity was limited to sales pitches and the incredible job of bringing up two daughters to be independent freethinking individuals, well adjusted in life, until they no longer needed or heeded me, and the craving for an audience hit once again
By now, the world had changed beyond my tech challenged comprehension, and the virtual world ruled, denying me access. My wife, who had moved with the times, my friends, who had learnt to cope, and my children, who were born with mouse in hand, had no patience for my illiteracy.
It looked like my outpourings would die unheard through lack of virtual space. Finally, with patient coaching from few young colleagues and friends, I attempted the new medium, THE BLOG and the FB and through many blunderings in unexplored and mysterious realms of which more shall be disclosed later, the end results were finding an entirely new set of readers, who did not pay in moolah, but in likes and comments and shares. Moreover, the reach was Global, and it thrilled me to have loyal readers and followers from five continents, including someone from Moldova, a couple of people from Pakistan, and a few from Russia.
The happiness that this gave me, money can’t buy.
But now a new envy crept in. How come X has one million hits, hundred thousand followers, dozens of awards, and all for writing such bilge?
But then slowly, as my readers crossed the twenty thousand mark, and followers the thousand mark, and a few awards rolled in, I too started feeling better. I watched my indivine rank leap around with the intensity of the punter watching sensex. I celebrated reaching the exalted eighties and mourned falling to the lowly fifties.
The next great thing to happen was that a story of mine was picked up for an anthology. Seeing my name in print, after ages, and that too in a book along with established writers, gave me an immense high. This was followed by a couple of other pieces being picked as well, a funny poem here, a limerick there, and a fairy tale somewhere else. It boosted my ego to ridiculous proportions.
Thus when an invitation came to try my luck at worldwide a novel writing competition, I bravely plunged in. This was supposed to be a novella or very short novel of thirty thousand words in thirty chapters written in a month. Of course I failed. But I was kindly given another month’s time to try and finish it, although I was out of the competition.
Having a full time job which is quite demanding, time became an issue. I wrote mostly in airport lounges, and announcements for delay in flights looked like lucky breaks. I even wrote crouched in the economy seats in flights. I welcomed traffic jams as I wrote in the car. I wrote late at night, sometimes groggy eyed after a party or official dinner. I welcomed conferences which I normally avoid, so that I could write while the speaker droned on. During our performance review, while waiting my turn to be grilled by our chairman, I was busy writing while pretending that I am polishing up my presentation like the rest of my colleagues. The story was finished in the extended period, but the quality of produce was debatable.
However, some people liked it, some raved about it, and although it did not even win the popular vote, the enthusiastic support turned my head. Now that the massive effort of actually penning thirty thousand odd words was over, my long time dream of actually publishing a novel resurfaced. I had given up the idea as a pipe dream, but now started hoping again.
The details of how it happened would make another story, but my rough draft was polished into shape by my daughter, who writes far better than me, and deplores my efforts as lazy first drafts.
My artist daughter did the sketches; my toughest critic gave her scathing opinion, and through this family joint venture, a book was born.
A dream came true.
Whether it will be successful depends on you readers
If it is,there would be many more coming, so be warned
The End, Chapter 30, the Final chapter of Memory, a Novella
Written for Nanowrimo extended
Copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee
BOYS DON’T CRY
This is one maxim that made life difficult for Boy. Long before it was macho and cool for men to be in touch with their emotions and not being afraid to show sensitivity, Boy had the unfortunate predicament of being ahead of times. He cried watching films.
Not all films mind you. He did not cry at Laurel and Hardy films. But Charlie Chaplin was another matter. Action films left him dry eyed. But not if they were action packed patriotic war movies. Ditto, action films to do with martyrs in the freedom struggle. These made Boy cry buckets. As did the first Hindi film he saw, ‘Haathi mere Saathi’. Anand left him cold, but Fiddler on the roof was a three hankie film, even before Boy had daughters of his own and identified with poor Topol.
This was his shameful secret. AND IT HAD TO STAY THIS WAY! If not quite his life, but his reputation and his young manhood depended on it.
Cinema halls being dark, it kept a veil on this Achilles heel and no one suspected that the snivelling could be coming from the irreverent comedian which was Boy’s public persona. Add the fact that his spectacles and frequent colds he pretended to suffer from hid the symptoms of his shame from the casual eye, and Boy was as successful in keeping this alter ego a dark secret as successfully as Dr Jekyll.
Books were another matter. Boy was addicted to the printed word and spent every bit of free time, in public transport and communal spaces as well, stuck in books. He would completely lose all sense of space time continuum when in the throes of this narcotic world, and would often laugh out loud or exclaim audibly. Giggles were frequent. Now, while laughing aloud while reading is tolerated as eccentricity, with mild censure, and even giggling attracted bearable amounts of hazing, snivelling would have spelled a death knell. Boy’s tastes did not run to soppy stuff, and tearjerkers made him laugh, so one would think that there was no danger of disclosure, but no, not quite. You see, what got Boy’s tear ducts running were stories of triumph against odds, the little guy winning, the new kid scoring the winning goal, the 1911 Mohanbgan victory in the IFA shield in a real life Lagaan scenario and similar stories of heroism and success. Boy used camouflage in the form of loud laughter or eye irritation as a cover up.
But you can go only so far in covering up an overactive lachrymal gland. Rumours regarding his manhood began to circulate. It was only the fact that Boy was an enthusiastic sportsperson, had the advantage of a scathing tongue, and a reputation as a scrappy fighter helped him survive those whispers. Not crying in physical pain helped salvage Boy’s name somewhat whenever he was beaten up defending his honour against any slur of emotionalism.
It was years later that Boy could openly cry with his daughters watching Lion King or Chak De India.
One would expect that this albatross around Boy’s neck would come to his rescue one day when he really needed the relief of letting the tears flow and the howls rise to wash away his anguish and unburden his soul when something actually affected him in real life.
But like Karna’s knowledge, the bitch deserted Boy at his moment of trial.
Boy was keeping vigil in the loneliest place in the world, the waiting room outside the ICCU. The one person Boy hero worshipped in childhood, confronted in the arrogance of youth, and grew distant from in the labyrinths of their own lives, the one person who always supported Boy and was there for him without expectations of reciprocity, who’s debt would forever remain unpaid, was inside, hooked up to a ventilator.
Boy was called inside and it was explained that there was nothing further to be done, and he had to take the final decision of flipping the switch. He was given a moment alone with the patient. Boy desperately waited for the welcome release of the warm flood that heals, but nothing came. He was dry eyed and stony faced. Boy went through the motions of bereavement in automation.
On the one occasion that boys can cry, Boy couldn’t.
That day, Boy finally grew up, and became a man.