Reminiscing Independence Day Plays to Merry Christmas Readings


Neelum revisits a 1976 issue of Imprint. It was a wonderful literary magazine that carried short stories, poems, travel pieces and book supplements, of superlative quality, with R.V. Pandit as Editor and Ruskin Bond as Managing Editor. There was a common preserve of essential reading for a certain class of people and most people then would know just where to laugh at the tongue-in-cheek sallies of the author! A hilarious essay by M.V. Mathew in the Christmas number of Imprint, is titled: ‘Merry Christmas Reading for the Neoliterate’. Enjoy it. It brings back an age, says the author, in her weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Just as there are different truths, so there are different categories of reading for different audiences, different kinds of interest-segments, varieties of inside jokes, different sorts of patois, and this enriching plurality of expressions and receptions is to be celebrated. But having said this it’s so good to hark back to a time when a commonality of reading content united people cutting across differences of region, age and discipline. What made it possible was exposure to a common pool of books, authors, publishers. It was a time when the big, local bookstores were places of accidental meetings and spontaneous discussions, when browsing was as much a pleasure as buying.

I have written elsewhere about the Independence Day celebrations in my school in the mid 1960s. We used to have a fancy dress competition, something hugely prepared for. This would roughly be the time of year when hectic preparations would be on, lots of discussion, costume creations, hasty looking up of references in books, collection of props. I remember a sloe-eyed Cleopatra, complete with gilt headgear and sequined tunic, a glamorous Eliza Doolittle at Ascot in her white gown with black-barred hip bow and massive wedding-cake hat. There were themes, you see and, in 1971, it was Books and Characters. Parts of an earlier Facebook post of mine bear repeating here: “Another year, 1966, I was a Class 6 Othello. Not being Moorish enough in complexion, my skin was competently slathered with Cherry Blossom Boot Polish till I shone like a corporate exec’s shoe. I wore a green doublet and hose and my narrow ribcage supported an impressive cardboard armour. In my hand I carried a proper English sword which my mother had, after consulting some books, directed the nearby badhai (carpenter) to create. It smelt of fresh paint and left silver stains on my fingers. As for my long hair, my mother had pinned it up in Brit memsahib style, so that I looked like a pigmy Edwina Mountbatten, in doublet and hose and armour, clutching a sword. I’m afraid I made a very timorous Othello and a likely candidate for throttling at the hands of any confident Desdemona!

“One of my bookworm friends used to visit me often and we’d spend the evening walking up and down and up and down my compound discussing ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Desiree’ and ‘Gone With the Wind’. The romantic icons of our adolescent imaginations were Rhett Butler, Maxim de Winter, Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester, though I rather liked Larry of ‘Little Women‘. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why those difficult heroines in those popular novels turned down such gorgeous men, reducing them to strong, silent, stoic suffering. We hadn’t yet advanced to hard core lit. We passed books around with an honesty and collaborative interest that I now marvel at. I had only to mention an author I wanted to read and one of my friends turned up with a book by him, stealthily secreted out of her brother’s collection, and handed it to me with strict instructions that I hurry up with it so that its absence should not be detected. Pen-friends discussed books and aspiring boy-friends, too shy for any overtures, timidly turned up with a book or the other and suggested that since we both shared this interest, why didn’t we exchange books on a regular basis? How boring and decorous this must seem to the young of our time, but there was such sweet rapture in finding a rose or a poem on a sheet of paper hidden in a book.

How central to our lives were the books we read and shared!”

I found this jewel in a 1976 issue of Imprint. Remember Imprint? That wonderful literary magazine that carried short stories, poems, travel pieces and book supplements, all of superlative quality, with R.V. Pandit as Editor and Ruskin Bond as Managing Editor. There was a common preserve of essential reading for a certain class of people and most people then would know just where to laugh at the tongue-in- cheek sallies of the author!

This is a hilarious essay by M.V. Mathew in the Christmas number of Imprint. It’s titled: ‘Merry Christmas Reading for the Neoliterate’. Enjoy it. It brings back an age.

“This is the season when in the less civilised countries thoughtless people buy bright-jacketed books and, without reading them, give them to their unsuspecting friends as presents.”

It is a pernicious custom (But who are we to judge others?) No man has the right to thrust a book on another. As the old saying goes, one man’s meat is another man’s allergen. Mr. X’s reading tastes may be entirely different from Mr. Y’s.

Wherefore has the ancient Tibetan sage, Too Thin-king, said: “Never insult a friend by forcing your favourite best-seller on him.”

Here, nevertheless, are a number of books heartily recommended by an innocent, well-meaning bibliophile as Merry Christmas reading for all illiterates, neoliterates, quasi-literates, crypto-literates and pseudo-literates. (The latter are also known as intellectuals).

For obvious reasons I have not tried to classify the books into fiction, biography, travel, history, science, etc. This will heighten the thrill of discovering new and recent writing.

TNT: By Leon Urea (Apprentice-Hill, $ 29.95). A hilarious tale of three American amateur crooks, Timothy, Nicky and Thomasovsky, who form the TNT team, who try to use an explosive called polyurethane to blow up the Last International Bank. After the exciting attempt, they end up – predictably – in the cooler…. (As we say in our day OMG! This isn’t funny anymore!)

The Lonely Lad: by Harold Robbing (G.P. Puddinham’s Sons, $ 55.95). An epic tale about a boy who is so malnourished he won’t grow up. Finally Rockefeller University whiz kids have to do some original biochemical research to synthesize a growth hormone. But by the time they discover it, the lad becomes a lass. Alas…. (More of the OMG. Too gender-sensitive for our time.)

All You Wanted to Know about Memory and Forgot to Ask: By Sickmound Fraud and Goostaff Yoong (University of Chickenfeed Press, $125.95). The definitive do-it- yourself book on how to develop a good memory. One thousand mnemonics and other easy recipes are included in this masterpiece of humour.

The Boldest Stories of the World: Edited by Theodore Windmore (Persevere, €22.50). An anthology to end all anthologies, which one perceptive critic called ‘endthology’.

Julietbai and Romeoji: By Shah Kaspierwala (Prurient Hardbacks, Ghaziabad, Rs. 99.75). The immortal love story with a surprising twist: the two lovers meet with a tragic end by getting married.

Yaws: By Peter Deskly (Mark Million, $ 72.50). An all-time best-seller about the Eternal Quadrangle. The title is a delicious acronym for “Your Answer was Sweet”. This sentence with which the novel starts, is crucial to the story. If the answer was sour, there would have been no trouble – and no book, either.

The Compleat Bungler: By Isaac Fallton (A Bellycan Special, € 22.50). A reissue of the great classic on the magnificent robbers of history who failed in all their attempts, even in their efforts to break into jails. Must reading for all clumsy-handed pickpockets.

My Life and Hearty Times: By Bob Ope (Tandem House, $ 56.95). The famous cardiac surgeon’s autobiography in which he tells all. Not a single lie has been left out.

My Uncle’s Nephew: By Govind Zutesitter (Navagraha Pustakalaya, Ratnagiri, Rs. 99.50). The famous classic which won the author the Foolitzer Prize. It is a collection of short stories, mainly autobiographical, but with some clever touches of falsehood thrown in…

Sight-Seeing and Sound-Hearing in South-West Africa: By Hemingroad Safari (Hardcourt, Craze, Ivanovici, $ 57.95). Another travel book, nearly all of which consists of colour photographs and plastic stereo disks. Invaluable for tourists who don’t care much for starred hotels and reclining lionesses.

Whodadunit?: By Agatha Pristine (Henguine, €12.50). A thriller-chiller of the first water. Unputdownable, as one critic put it (down).

James Joyous: By Ulysses Finnegan Grant (Persevere, € 105.50). Biographical fiction at its most inventive. The story of the famous recluse who lived in the foothills of the Andes and forgot to brush his teeth.

The Travails of Marconi Polo-nius: By Woodwork and Fernstain (Pieking, $ 32.95). As an example of meticulously reconstructed history, this book beats even the famous chronicle about the leaning tower of Pisa.

My Own Strange Tail: By Woody Allin (Anthill Press, $ 33.95). The great film comedian takes time off to look at himself and gets a kick out of it. Inimitably funny, if you can follow his words….

Jonathan Livingston Gullible: By Peter Offalbach (Mark Million, € 22.50). A poetically told tale of a petty clerk who rose to become a jetliner pilot. Elevating stuff.’

I don’t know what the authors of the original books felt as they read this creative parody of their best-selling titles. For my part, I would be in splits if I came across the title: ‘Three Divers and a Sea,’ or ‘Reeking of Seventy-Two’. Reeking of 1972 is what this essay from Imprint does.

©Neelum Saran Gour

Pix from Net.

Neelum S. Gour

Neelum S. Gour

Neelum Saran Gour is a well known IndianEnglish fiction writer and academic. She has been an active book reviewer, critic, translator, humour columnist, creative writing guide and jury member in the award of national literary prizes. She works as Professor of English Literature at the University of Allahabad.
Neelum S. Gour