Bachelor of Arts

booknarayan

 

Rasipuram Krishnaswamier (‘RK’) Iyer Narayan (1905-2001) was born in Madras (now ‘Chennai’) in southern India. He was a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. Many of his fictional works are set in the imaginary southern Indian town called Malgudi. Until recently when I bought a copy of “Bachelor of Arts” (first published in 1937 when India was ruled by the British), I had never read any of Narayan’s works. 

“Bachelor of Arts” is a delightful simply told tale about a young man, Chandran, whom we meet while he is completing his BA degree. We follow his life’s strangely interesting path after he graduates until he … well, I won’t give away the story. Despite the simplicity and clarity of the story telling, Narayan subtly changes the mood of the story as it progresses. I liked the way he did this. Another interesting aspect of this novel is the gentle way in which the author criticises the British imprerialistic attitude. I was also excited by the way Narayan, an Indian, portrays the ‘Indian-ness’ of his characters. As Grahame Greene wrote of Narayan in the introduction to the edition I read:

Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian.”

I agree wholeheartedly with what Greene wrote. I plan to read more of Narayan’s works as “Bachelor of Arts” has whetted my apetite successfully.

Creation and correction

My latest book, whose subject I will not yet reveal, is almost but not quite ready for publishing.

 

ancient blur calligraphy czterolinia

 

I have reached the stage with my latest book where I am looking out for things like: putting commas where full stops ought to be and vice versa; checking spelling; replacing a word or phrase with a more suitable one; making sure that names start with upper-case letters; and so on. In other words, I am trying to edit my text prior to publishing it. I read my manuscript over and over again, hoping to spot errors. However, frequent perusals of a familiar text can cause errors to be missed. So, I will ask someone else to proof-read my work. Even then, one cannot be sure that all ‘blemishes’ have been identified, but two sets of eyes are better than one when it comes to spotting ‘typos’ and other mistakes.

Even when it has been proof-read, there is still much to do before the book can be published. I will need to choose some illustrations and decide where to place them. I will also have to re-format my text so that it conforms to the publisher’s requirements. And then, when the book has been published, the really hard part begins: marketing my work!

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How far do you go?

Story line_500

 

There are many ways of choosing books to read. Some people go by the ‘blurb’ on the cover or the subject matter as suggested by the title, others by the first few pages, some by the last few pages, and yet others simply by the reputation of the author.

Having chosen one, how do you decide whether to read it from start to finish or to abandon it?  

If I can get through the first ten or so pages, I will continue reading it. So, I conclude from this that when I am writing a book it is very important to engage the reader from the very first page. In addition, when the book appears on sites like Amazon, the sample that becomes available for potential buyers is these first few pages.

If I am not enjoying a book by the hundredth page, I will happily stop reading the book, and then choose another. If, on the other hand, I am fully enjoying or finding a book interesting as I reach page 100, there is a very good chance that I will read the whole book.

What is your decision-making process for deciding whether or not to stick with a book?

So near, but so far

WRITING

 

I have been working on the manuscript of my latest book, about whose subject I will write sooner or later.

I have reached a stage at which I keep reading through the whole text, trying to put myself in the place of a potential reader, and from that position I make modifications, which I hope will improve the quality of the book. Each time I look at it, I make more changes, many corrections, some additions, and many more deletions to eliminate my natural tendency towards verbosity. So, my book is nearing completion, but has far to go before publishing it.

Soon, I will be ready to show my manuscript to some kind volunteers to get their candid (I hope) opinions, comments, and criticisms on what I have produced so far.  If I do not do this, I will become self-satisfied and the book might begin to suffer. Also, I need to know whether what I have written is, in priciple, likely to be worth reading! Then, it will be back to the ‘drawing board’ to modify my work in the light of what my test readers tell me.

Finally, I will need to proof-read my book, format it properly, and add a few illustrations before publishing my ‘oeuvre’. From conceiving an idea to finishing a book based on it is a long process, frustrating at times but largely enjoyable.

It was not all bad in East Germany

 

For those of you who are too young to remember, Germany was divided into two separate countries, West Germany and East Germany (‘DDR’), between the end of World War 2 (‘WW2’) and 1990 (when the two countries were united into one). The DDR was a socialist republic overshadowed by the USSR.

Many years after the re-unification of Germany, our German-built Bosch dish-washing machine broke down. The engineer who came to mend it, fixed it in a couple of minutes, but remained talking to us for half an hour. He had been brought up in the DDR. He wanted to explain to us that contrary to all that we might have heard about the evils of the DDR and the difficulties its citizens faced, it was not all bad. He told us that, for example, education was good, there was little or no unemployment, and there had been a great sense of camaraderie. It was very important for our engineer that we should not think ill of the former DDR.

Recently, I finished reading an excellent book about the DDR, Red Love written by Maxim Leo and published in English in 2013. Leo was born in 1970, and like our Bosch engineer, does not damn the DDR, but takes care to point out that living in that former country was not at all easy or straightforward. For anyone curious about life in the DDR, this book is very illuminating. However, there is much more to this short book than describing the DDR.

What is most fascinating in Leo’s book is his stories about his two grandfathers, both of whom lived in the DDR. One of them remembered life being reasonable during the Nazi regime. Despite his grandson’s questioning, it is not clear what he did during those terrible times. The other grandfather led an exciting and dangerous life as a member of the French resistance during WW2. His story is gripping. 

Leo’s parents are also interestingly described. They were both in favour of, or atleast not completely against, the regime in the DDR. Each of them expressed their didfferent critical views of the political system, but neither of them did so strongly that they fell out of favour with it.

The book is a very readable translation of the original German translation. It provides a fascinating insight into life in the DDR and the period that preceded it. It was a book that I found difficult to put down, a real ‘page-turner’. Some of what I read in it chimes well with what our dish washing machine engineer told us.

Looking for something?

Archive

 

I write a great deal in my spare time. Apart from blogs like this one, I write books about subjects that require a considerable amount of research. I have a British Library (‘BL’) reader’s card, which gives me access to an unbelievable collection of material. However, even though I live not far from the BL, it is quite time-consuming getting to and from the material inside the library. Apart from security checks at the BL, one must leave many items, which are forbidden in the reading rooms (e.g. food, drink, all kinds of writing implements apart from pencils), in a locker in te basement. Once in the reading rooms, the BL becomes a joy to work in.

 

Over the years, I have been using another kind of library. It is on-line, and is reached by typing https://archive.org/ . Using its superb search engine, you can explore its collection in many ways, such as by author, by title, by keywords, etc. What comes up, if you are lucky, is a set of scanned volumes of relevant books or pamphlets. By clicking on an item, you are given the option of downloading it (.pdf, Kindle, and other formats), reading the scanned book using a very practical online reader, or reading a typed transcript of the entire text online. If the item is one you need, it is a lot easier reading it via this website than having to ‘schlep’ to the BL. This is especially the case if you do not live in London.

 

If you have not come across this website and you are looking for texts published long ago and not so distantly, head for archive.org, and give it a try!

 

My picture is part of a screen-shot of a page of results from archive.org

 

A brief glimpse of the past

PANZ

 

“… and set off after the cab. He dismissed it by Panzer’s Delicatessen on Bayswater Road…

So, wrote Frederick Forsyth in his novel The Fourth Protocol

If you look for Panzers today, you will not find it in Bayswater. There is a Panzer’s delicatessen in St Johns Wood, but it is not the same firm.

The shop was on Bayswater, facing the Czech Embassy, between Linden Gardensand Claricarde Gardens.  Panzers was still in business in 1985. It closed sometime after that (before 1993). 

A couple of days ago, I noticed that the shop front of a recently closed branch of  the wine retailer Oddbins was being renovated. The sign board above the display window had been removed, revealing some old tiling. Barely discernable on the tiling were three letters ‘PAN’, these being the first three letters of ‘Panzers’. For a brief time, the remains of the now long-gone delicatessen mentioned by Frederick Forsyth may be seen by passers  by. Soon, it will either be removed or covered up.

This long lost shop also appears in another well-known novel, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. She wrote:

She painted until one and then drove me down to Kensington for lunch … 

… She took me to a little Italian place for lunch, down near where she and Leo live, called Panzer’s Pasta and Pizza …”

A photograph taken in the 1970s shows that there were two Panzers close to each other in Bayswater (see: https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/2018/09/20/notting-hill-gate-the-other-high-street/). I have posted a detail from it. The branch, whose sign was partially revealed recently is marked with a red arrow. The other branch, which I suspect was the one in Helene Hanff’s book, is marked with a yellow arrow:

PANZERS 

Taxi in Tirana

In May 2016, my wife and I landed in Albania at Tirana’s airport. There was a line of taxis whose drivers were all eager to drive us into the city centre and to accept either local currency or Euros. At other times during our trip, getting a taxi was never a problem. However, thirty-two years earlier, when Albania was a strictly controlled Stalinist dictatorship (at least as as repressive as North Korea is today) , getting to hire a taxi was impossible as this excerpt from my book “Albania on my Mind”  will demonstrate.

TAXI 2

A ‘busy’ street in Tirana in 1984

“After we had eaten lunch at the hotel, a group of us went into the square outside it. We saw a long line of taxis, which were waiting vacantly by a booking booth. We wondered how often these were hired and by whom; there was not a soul in sight taking the slightest interest in them. One of us walked up to the booth and asked the man sitting inside whether we could hire a taxi to take us up to Mount Dajti, some way outside Tirana. Just when it seemed that we had succeeded in hiring a cab, another person inside the booth lifted a telephone receiver, listened for a moment, and then whispered something to the man with whom we had just negotiated. He beckoned to us, and pointed at the hotel. Somehow, he made it clear to us that we needed to book the taxi not from him, but from the hotel reception desk.

TAXI 1

Tirana 1984. Typically empty main square (Skanderbeg Square)

We trouped back into the hotel’s lobby and made a beeline for the reception desk. Two suited men, sitting on a sofa nearby, looked at us over the tops of their newspapers. As we reached the desk, I noticed that the doors of one of the hotel’s two lifts were opening. Our Albanian guide Eduart hurried through them and towards the receptionist, who was beginning to attend to us. 
“What do you need?” Eduart asked us, out of breath.
“We want to hire a taxi.”
“Why?”
“We want to visit Mount Dajti?”
“Why should you do that?”
“We need some fresh country air. We’ve been in the city for too long.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Eduart protested. “You have already spent many days in the countryside.”
“But, that’s what we want, and we believe that the views from Mount Dajti are magnificent.”
“You cannot go.”
“Why ever not?” we asked.
“There is a lot of traffic. The roads are crowded.” We looked at Eduart disbelievingly. Traffic congestion was certainly not a problem in Albania in 1984.

“You know that there’s a big national cycle race on at the moment.”
“That was over long ago,” one of us objected. “We saw the posters announcing it along the roads.”
“You can visit Mother Albania, but no further.”
We had already visited the Mother Albania monument, which was located in the outskirts of the town. However, as we were determined to not to give in to our obstreperous guide, we agreed to his compromise.
“Alright,” we said.
Then, Eduart said menacingly:
“You may take the taxi to Mother Albania, but remember that if anything happens to you, we cannot take any responsibility for your safety. You will not be protected by your group visa.” “We’ll risk it,” one of us said.
I did not like the threatening sound of Eduart’s voice, but followed the rest of our small group back to the taxi rank. When we arrived there no more that ten minutes after we had left it, we found that all of the taxis had disappeared, and also there was an extremely long line of people waiting in a queue outside the booth. Accepting defeat, we made our way on foot to …”

TAXI 3

Traffic in Tirana, 2016

DISCOVER  WHAT IT WAS LIKE VISITING COMMUNIST ALBANIA IN 1984 IN “ALBANIA ON MY MIND” by ADAM YAMEY

It is available from Amazon, Bookdepository.com, lulu.com, and on Kindle