Sunday, November 06, 2005

This is the first day of bookduniya. The first hour of its existence....the name came up after a few hours of intense thinking (?!). If this is the state of my calcified brain I shudder to think of the days ahead, when the blog takes shape as a site where (you've guessed it...no prizes) we discuss books and authors.

Will start this blog with a post on the works of H.H. Munro (Saki). Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916) was a satirist and a man of brilliant wit. Adopting a pen name (Saki or "cup bearer") from Khayyam's Rubaiyat, Saki went on, in his old fashioned and charming language, to describe the Edwardian society of his time...a society with a strict adherence to a social structure with its attendent norms and graces on the outside...and dull and decadent from within. Through his satire and the witticisms in his dialogue, he also went on to show how weak and close to collapse that system was. The beautiful ladies, the dashing officers, the haughty duchesses, their gossip amidst the lavish dinners served in exquisite china, the manicured gardens, the cheroots, the shikars and the worlds of the young Reginalds and Clovis'. That world no longer exists and the fast pace and noise of the present ensures that the old world fades away carrying with it authors such as Saki whose subtle and nuanced style in portraying the lifestyles of the privileged of that era is quite unparalleled.

One of Saki's popular short stories is Mrs. Packletide's Tiger. As with a significant part of Saki's works, this too is set in British India. Mrs. Packletide, a lady of immense wealth, suddenly decides to compete with the Joneses...and what better way to posterity than to indulge in a tiger shikar or tiger hunt followed by snapshots of the hunter posing with one foot on the torso of the hunted. In Saki's own words "It was her pleasure or intention that she should shoot a tiger. Not that the lust to kill had suddenly descended on her or that she felt that she would leave India safer and more wholesome than she had found it, with one fraction less of wild beast per million of inhabitants."

How she manages to do that without putting herself at any risk and how the old tiger actually dies of fright from the noise of the rifle while the bullet hits the tethered goat (such a markswoman was Packletide) makes for some laughter.

Here's another sampler:
Therefore did Mrs. Packletide face the cameras with a light heart, and her pictured fame reached from the pages of Texas Weekly Snapshot to the illustrated Monday supplement of the Novoe Vremya. As for Loona Bimberton, she refused to look at an illustrated paper for weeks, and her letter of thanks for the gift of a tiger claw brooch was a model of repressed emotions...(I always marveled at the delightful last bit)

Saki died in his early forties. His writings, most of which are in the form of short stories, have been published in a volume titled Complete Works which is both a pleasure and a delight.

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