Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Monday, Sep 13, 2004

About Us
Contact Us
Metro Plus
Published on Mondays & Thursdays

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Property Plus | Quest | Folio |

Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Mangalore    Thiruvananthapuram    Vijayawada    Visakhapatnam   

Printer Friendly Page Send this Article to a Friend

The Master story-teller

R.V. SMITH


IT IS nearly 35 years since the publication of John Masters' paper book edition of the `Ravi Lancers', a novel about World War I - and that's a reminder of a meeting with him, a man who fought alongside the Gurkhas and commanded them. One will find his love for the Nepali soldiers and countryside etched deep in his novels - and also a bit of Moghul India's twin capitals - Delhi and Agra. But here is something about the man and the writer - and of how his mind worked.

It was over three decades ago when one went to meet him at a hotel, next to the Free Mason hall, in Janpath without appointment.The famous novelist arched his eyebrows with a quizzical look and asked: "Who are you, by the way? As far as I remember I didn't expect any visitors tonight." When told that one is an admirer who also dabbles in journalism, "No interviews", he said with a wave of the hand. And by the way, I don't like people invading my privacy."

One nearly beat a hasty retreat, but on second thoughts Masters pulled this writer in by hand, "Come, Come", he said in a half-bored way. Slowly the rapport was built as Masters spoke of his Indian experience. And even as he spoke, one mentally went through all the books by him that one read. There was the much acclaimed `Coromandel', his fifth book on the Savage family, the fortunes of seven generations of which he had portrayed in books which include the `Night Runners of Bengali', `The Deceivers', `The Lotus and the Wind', `The Ravi Lancers', `Far, Far the Mountain Peak', `Bugles and a Tiger', and that famous one on Partition, `Bhowani

Master's first

But coming back to `Coromandel', though it was Masters' fifth book, it was in a way his first, for it dealt with the fortunes of Jason Savage, the first of the family who left his job as a farm-hand in England to seek his fortune in medieval India, finally landing at the Moghul court and then, along with his fiancé, Catherine, making his way to Tibet, where he nearly ended up as the great reincarnated Lama while poor Catherine was lying on a blanket wondering at Jason's idiosyncrasies. One thought next of the `Night Runners of Bengal', which actually dealt with the outbreak of the Great Indian Mutiny, and a brief return to Moghul rule in Delhi. Masters' main concern in `The Deceivers' was to portray the bloody profession of the thugs, who waylaid unsuspecting travellers and strangled them with the roomal, the big handkerchief of Kali. `Bugles and a Tiger' was a tribute to the fighting qualities of the Gurkhas, among whom Masters himself had served as a British officer, and the `Ravi Lancers' was the not-so-fictional story of one of the heroic Indian regiments, composed of fierce Rajput cavalrymen, that won laurels in World War I. Their names are probably etched at India Gate.

Masters spoke of his experiences in Word War II. His face, chiselled in the classic mould, could have been that of an aging Greek God. He was in love with India, its quaint sound and sights, its mysteries, its mountains, hills and dales, the veiled faces of its women, the hardness, tempered with an earthy handsomeness of its men, and their deep-rooted loyalties. One could see that although Masters had made America his home after retiring from the British Army, his heart was very much in India.

One talked until the evening of a Delhi summer day had lost its earlier innocence, with the moon peeping in through the window, before flooding the Jantar Mantar with its light. Masters stretched his legs with the remark that the Capital had changed much. Though Masters may not have been a novelist in the same category as Dostoevsky or Tolstoy or Hardy or Huxley, he was certainly a master craftsman who could chisel his Indian experience into a story. For after all, what is a novel but a story well told! And there was Masters still at the hotel window, perhaps telling another story to himself, before relating it to us!

(NB: In last week's article, the name of Eaton's book should have read: Temple Desecration. Muslim States in Medieval India.

Printer friendly page  
Send this article to Friends by E-Mail

Metro Plus    Bangalore    Chennai    Coimbatore    Delhi    Hyderabad    Kochi    Madurai    Mangalore    Thiruvananthapuram    Vijayawada    Visakhapatnam   

Features: Magazine | Literary Review | Life | Metro Plus | Open Page | Education Plus | Book Review | Business | SciTech | Entertainment | Young World | Property Plus | Quest | Folio |


The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | The Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | Home |

Comments to : thehindu@vsnl.com   Copyright © 2004, The Hindu
Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu