By Special Invitation

GRAHAM GREENE (1904-1991). THE SUPER LAUREATE A tribute on his 115th birth anniversary — By Murari Madhusudan Thakur

Graham Greene courtesy Wikipedia

Born 115 years ago, Graham Greene, the English novelist and short-story writer, managed in his last phase to cross beyond all the usual boundaries within which traditional fiction writers have generally worked. I am referring here to novels like The Comedians (1966), The Honorary Consul (1973) and specially, Getting to Know the General (1984), as also his autobiographies, A Sort of Life (1971) and Ways of Escape (1980).

Like D.H. Lawrence, Greene was a restless soul and kept travelling all around the world all his life in his quest of source material as well as travel for its own sake. Beginning with his early phase during which Greene made a journey across Liberia in 1935, described in his Journey Without Maps, he was continually on the move. Quite a few of his novels are set in countries abroad; for example, The Heart of the Matter is located in West Africa, The Quiet American in Vietnam, Our Man in Havana in Cuba, and Getting to Know the General in Central America.

Greene not only crossed over physical boundaries, he also managed to transcend cultural ones in search of experience till he had friends and loved ones in several nationalities and cultures. He literally proved in his life the maxim that great literature knows no boundaries. Of all English novelists, Greene came to be closest to becoming a truly international figure before he died in 1991 at the age of eighty seven. By the end of his last phase of writing, beginning around the mid-1960s, Greene had produced some thirty novels, ‘entertainments’, plays, books for children, travel books, collections of short stories, essays in criticism, reflections and reviews as well as two volumes of autobiography. The Comedians and twelve other novels, and two of his short stories had been filmed during his lifetime. Famous film directors and producers grew so fond of the man and his work that his The Third Man was actually written as a film treatment. From a struggling writer in the mid-1930s, Greene rose to be a celebrated world-class literary figure and lived a life of relative affluence. He was named a member of the Order of Merit, and made a Companion of Honour in 1966.

Graham Greene was never awarded the much-coveted Nobel Prize for Literature, which is generally considered the highest honour given to a writer, a sign of ultimate recognition at the global level. However, since Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel in 1965, laying down a whole set of reasons why a writer must be known for his work rather than by the Nobel, the prize has come to be regarded more as a “political” choice than a true sign of literary recognition. Viewed from this perspective alone, the achievement of Graham Greene as a novelist is truly outstanding. When he died in 1991, a fellow novelist called him “our greatest living novelist until today”, a Nobel laureate for Literature spoke of Greene as “the ultimate chronicler of twentieth-century man’s consciousness and anxiety” and a celebrated actor described him as “a great writer who spoke brilliantly to a whole generation”.

Greene was the only writer of his time who made personal friends not only with fellow novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but also with dictators, rulers and generals of struggling Central American nations, with a streak of compassion for men. He was trusted by some of the latter as unofficial ambassador and one-man goodwill mission. For his own part, Greene had the love of adventure and the courage to undertake assignments fraught with danger, and returned as always with a fresh spring of creativity as a novelist. It was owing to this initiative and courage at a fairly advanced age that Greene was able to give a whole new dimension to the English novel: the novel became in his hands a portrait of people and their leaders struggling for survival and for freedom against heavy odds. It was at the same time a tool in his hands to present living and moving pictures of the neuroses of rich and famous men caught up in this age of anxiety. In some of these portraits, Greene rises to heights undreamt of by the English novelists of the past.

The only one in “the great tradition” who comes close to Greene is Joseph Conrad, but I think he goes beyond Conrad in the range and variety of his portraits.

All in all, by his unique individual talent, Graham Greene has extended and enriched the great tradition of English fiction coming down from the eighteenth century. The body of his work has come to stay.

December 7, 2019

Like D.H. Lawrence, Greene was a restless soul and kept travelling all around the world all his life in his quest of source material as well as travel for its own sake


Darr Lagey toh Gaanaa Gaa

That word cannot be uttered. It should not find mention. That would be a violation of things, don’t you think? It will mean a violation of who we are, we the sanskaari peepuls. It is that four-letter word beginning with an F after all. We don’t use such words, naa-naa, tauba-tauba, it is not in our culture to do so. It is a sign of these lowly times and lowered standards that more and more people use that word, and it is heard more and more. But that’s not good, that cannot be allowed, that must be frowned upon and discouraged. Why? What’s the need to use that four-letter word beginning with an F? Faltu mein.

Four-letter words beginning with F tend to be unsavoury. When art begins with an F, for instance. Imagine. Would you like it used around you? Or worse, enacted? Nahin naa? Thought so. I mean that word. Being spoken out aloud all around all the time. It’s irksome and troublesome in the very least. I mean man is a social animal. And you will not find it said too often, but so is woman. And to think of that word being voiced all the time. It is not merely violative of social norms, it can be destructive of society. Too much of it being felt and spoke about can be ruinous. Of all of us. Be gone! That four-letter word beginning with F which is not the same word as art beginning with F. Minor thanks to God for that.

But no, it will not go away. Hector as you might, motion it banished, however much you may. The truth of the matter is that too many of us folks are all the time feeling that word and are talking about it all the time. And all of that has led to a deteriorated atmosphere. Things are not good. They cannot be good if everyone is sensing that word and talking about it and expressing apprehension about what that word, or the mere sense of its presence all around us, could do to us. I mean, come to think of it, it is no ordinary word. It is capable, oftentimes, of giving us the shakes and the shivers. And it most definitely impacts others. It is such a word. The very mention of it is bound to attract attention; and as I said it is getting mentioned all the time all over the place, so you can well imagine.

It has turned so rampant that it has attracted notice at the very highest levels. Needless to say, such rampant and unbridled mention of it has also rankled elements that the highest levels are comprised of. F X X X? You mean F Triple X? Nonsense. Under us? Why is this unholy chorus being sounded all around? Whose deed is this, whose conspiracy? Surely this is a plot to defame us. Surely this is anti-national. Sing the national anthem, stand up all, and sing. Now! Else you will be deemed part of this dark hatching of ominous things. Sing! Or you shall be pointed in the direction of Bakistan. F X X X? Here? You are feeling like F X X X? Go check out how things are in Bakistan, how F X X X works there! They don’t know the very F of F X X X!

These good-for-nothing traitors! How dare they even make a mention of such a word, abrogate it! There is no F X X X. Not on our watch. It cannot happen, we are a sanskaari people, we do not believe in F X X X, nor use it. But are people feeling it? Are they talking about it? Let them come to me. Send them to me and I shall take care of them, so has roared NumberToo, who is second only to the HighestEchelon in the land. Ironic, isn’t it, that most folks say they are feeling the four-letter word beginning with an F mainly on account of NumberToo. It is he who inspires all the F X X X. And he says there is no such thing, or shouldn’t be. Hee-Hee-Hee-It-Isn’t-Faannee!! He’s calling, he’s motioning, he’s saying the real meaning of F X X X he will reveal to you in your ear, go closer. And he will reveal to you the real meaning of the four-letter word beginning with F.

I’ve heard it being often used
And we’ll hear it again, my Dear
It comes from things being abused
The word you’re looking for is Fear.


Actually, the word for it is Hass

Go figure. Please. At your own will, in your own time. There is such a thing: Hass. Should you look around and you have forsaken your blinkers before beginning to look around, you will see them. And then you’ll have figured.

Meantime, this: Have you wondered that there might lie some good somewhere even in affairs that we have slapped with all that we consider undesirable and unworthy? For example, and by way of currency and happenstance, this business of HorseTrading. What a terrible thing it is, this business of HorseTrading! HorseTrading, chhi, chhi, gandi baat!

But think about that again, go on give it a thought, an angular one if you please. What do you do with horses if not trade them? Well, of course, a few other things as well — you rear them, you ride them, you race them. But upon all of that, you trade them, or the best among them at any rate. It is probably fair to venture that history would not have moved — or would have crawled along, akin to the pace of snails — if horses had not been traded.

History has moved longer on horses than it has on later, and arguably swifter, modes of travel. And for history to have consistently moved along at a clip it was essential that horses were reared, ridden, often raced, and eventually traded.

It’s what made the movement of Man and his caravans possible. It’s what made empires and felled others. Horses were how loves met and loves were separated. Horses were how distances were made and distances unmade. Horses were how discovery was made, and mysteries unmade. Horses were how this planet came to know this planet. Horses were how notables ascended thrones, and, on occasion, even the Heavens. And to give HorseTrading such a poor name. Imagine a world without HorseTrading. Where would we even be without HorseTrading?

The term most likely originated — where else — in the womb of all manner of enterprise and licence, America, which was not yet quite the United States. Not that it can be called that now, especially with BlondieDuck in saddle. Anyhow, it was in the early 19th century perhaps that horses began to be traded wholesale, and often, in unscrupulous fashion. Horse trading pits were also bins of other kinds of vice, such that the trade became associated with roughnecks and rough practice.

But, not being terribly familiar with the ways of HorseTrading, I am constrained to quote from the Bible of our times, aka Google: “As standards for ethical business declined in the United States in the Gilded Age, the activities of horse traders came increasingly to be seen as the natural and, in part, desirable product of a competitive market rather than as symptoms of moral depravity.” In a 1893 New York Times editorial criticising a proposed law to make it illegal for a newspaper to falsely state its circulation figures, the author declared that “if the lying were stopped by law, the business of horse trading would come to an end, and the country taverns and groceries in the Winter season would be deprived even of the limited eventfulness which they now enjoy.”

What joy, this business of HorseTrading!

Except, what are sold as horses, or bought, aren’t always horses. Go figure.

Was a fellow once who chased a skirt

Thinking it worn by a lass;

Then chasing he went to dirt

And discovered it was only a Hass.

Telegraph Calcutta

Towards the end of our beginnings

More than Time it is that flows incessant, though Time it is that chiefly flows. From no beginning, or none that we know, towards no end, or none that we know. Or yet do. Towards the end of Time we tip and tip so deep there’s no returning to tell where that end may be, if there is such an end. And then there are other things that flow, like liquid cash through cracks in fingers; pour it, do pour, and it will flow through unto something else or someone else.

Or breeze unseen, or seen only whispering in the furs of tall and implacable firs, or sweeping banks of forlorn grass, or brushing cobwebs off forsaken masonry, or tossing locks of hurriedly maidens on a dappled day. Breeze that they show you curling about in arrows on weather charts on the box, but breeze you can never otherwise see and can only feel, sometimes even creeping through and trespassing the forbidden alleys between bone and flesh, astride your blood, along your bloodline. That sort of breeze flows and you would not know where it came from, unless you believed those arrows on the box, and you wouldn’t know where it went to. But it does come and it does go. It flows.

Or the river. The river flows too. From here and there unto nowhere. And then back up there where it came from, wherever it is that it came from, astride the wind and the clouds and down again upon earth as snow or sleet, or as water and then river again. That’s how rivers flow and keep flowing. From earth and along the earth, to the sky and then back again on earth as river. Rivers flow. Rivers fly off into the sky. Ever looked up and seen a river on its way? Well it is; up there is where rivers make the coupling between supposed ends and unknown beginnings. And from there they descend onto earth, in magical translucence and begin to flow again. And they never seem to stop.

And so it is that we are coddled in this swirl of the eternal. Of Time and of liquid cash, and of breeze and of rivers, unbelieving how it is that what is is never going to end, unbelieving that it will forever flow, around us and about us, taking us in these drifts of ends and beginnings. For one thing ends and another begins. And upon every ended thing there lies an unending trove of memory and of feel, of voice and of intonation, of manner and of moments that only need a kindling to be brought back alive, like a match to cold timber or a rub to numbed palms.

And all of that renders that ended thing not ended at all but endowed with new beginning. Death, be cotton you or silken or unregarded of texture, is not a thing, for all there is is Time and Time will not countenance Death for such a thing is Time. Things come to Death and then Time revolves round clocks and brings Death to lively things.

Nothing ever stops even when it has seemed to stop, for in the end of things are beginnings, and beginnings lead to ends, and so on and on it goes and that is how it happens that we are where we are. Clock an end, and a beginning has clocked in, ready to proceed to an end. Nothing does ever stop, it’s only we who often cannot discern an end from a beginning. Look around, and mourn not what may be gone or is going.

For what’s gone and what’s going is assuredly coming back, like liquid pennies given and then given back. It’s more than just Time that flows, incessant and without end. It’s what it is, and all there is.

It goes straight

And it goes round the bend

But what’s really great

Is it never comes to an end.

Telegraph Calcutta

And then we went charging after it

In the beginning there was Darkness, and only that. Make no mistake about that, no need to take anybody who tells you anything else with any measure of depth, seriously. Everything has come from Darkness, we all have. We may not have a memory of it, granted, but Darkness is where we began. Before we became we, we were wombed. Wombs are made of darkness and that is the darkness we eddy in and emerge from, and because it is the darkness of the womb we come from, almost the first thing we do is to ball up our eyes and screw up our brows against the light we have come into. Next time you get an opportunity, and you well might, see what happens when you come out of wombed darkness. It is a journey from Darkness unto Light, this gift of life: tamaso maa jyotirgamaya.

It is probably to chase Lights that we come from Darkness. But it is not as if all of us carry our essential meanings and pursue them, do we? We are too many different and varied beings, we do different and varied things, we very often do what we are not meant to do, or jet off in contrary directions to our purpose. We vow to do right, we harness ourselves to the purposes of achieving wrong, we proclaim dharma and enact adharma, we feign to embrace all — Sabka saath, Sabka vikas, Sabka vishwas or some such thing has been playing wastefully on loop — and then some of them we embrace we stab in the back and leave bleeding. Happens. We are like that. We say one thing, do another. We call for Light, we proceed towards summoning Darkness.

And we have done this so long now we have mixed up Light and Darkness, we do not know which is which. We have wounded Light. We have dealt sores in Darkness. Go chasing Light someday, and you will know. A good place to do that is in the sky. Lift yourself up. Up, up and up, through the dust and the smog and whatever muck there is, and through the clouds and the layers of wind below and above that make a flaky sandwich of clouds, and then through the clouds above the clouds until you are where there is nothing above but layers of Light and layers of Darkness. Try getting there for a start. Keep an oxygen mask handy, be warmly clothed and shod, it’s cold there, like mercury dripped, frozen and fallen kind of cold. So take care while you journey up.

Once there, you will find Light and you will find Darkness. In equal measure or in differentials of more and less. If in Light, there will forever be darkness to chase. If there is Darkness, there will be Light somewhere round the bend. That’s how things are, where there is Light, there will also be Darkness for each gets distinguished by the other. One separates from the other and then merges into the other. That’s how it is, you’ll see it up there. A darkening of things. And a lightness, a crystal lightness curling away. And there is Darkness, boring into itself, like marks of wounds, or like evidence of deed wrongly done. And there is forever a line which tells one from the other, and those lines mark the choice between one thing and another. And while up there between layers of Light and layers of Darkness, the choice is clear, you pick one or the other, and you become who you are.

If the fight’s in fitness

And if it’s a fight for right

It can’t be for darkness

It must be for light.


And then there are questions to ask

What should we do? About what should we do what we should do? How should we do what we should do? Is there a way we should do what we should do? Is there anything to be done? Can anything be done?

Is it necessary to ask such questions?
Is it time to ask such questions?
But what questions?
Do we know how to frame those questions?
Do we know who to ask those questions of?
Is there anybody taking questions?
Is there someone who will ask?

How have we come to be in the volatile swirl of so many questions? Where were these questions all this while? What was keeping them from turning in a twister around us?

Why are there so many questions?
Why is there such a noise of questions?
Why is there such silence?
What brought us to such decibels of noise and such depths of silence?
What are we doing betwixt? Betwixt noise and silence? Is that a question to ask?
How did we arrive here? Is that a question to ask? Is it right to wonder about right questions and wrong questions?
Must we ponder on questions that need asking or must we just let all of that be?
Must we just keep tobogganing on and on, down, down, down, plunge, plunge, plunge, into the perilously approaching thicket, crashing into which will take us apart bone by splintered bone, sinew by torn sinew? Must we just stop worrying about everything and stop worrying about how we will soon be torn asunder?

But will asking questions help?
But is not asking those questions an option?
What questions, though?
Like what have we become? Like what have we made of ourselves? Like what have we now revealed of ourselves?

Is it right and opportune to ponder those questions? Are you getting my drift? Am I right to be wondering in this rambling sort of fashion? About whether to ask them at all? Or not to ask them? Am I getting through? Am I even sounding as if I have something to say?

Of course there are questions to ask but which ones? Why have we become so shaken and stirred about normal questions? Like: Who are we? What do we want? Where are we going? Who is taking us there? Where is there? Is it the right there or the wrong there? Or is it just a there? Where are we? Where have we been brought? Where have we brought ourselves? Where have we allowed ourselves to be brought by those who are doing the bringing? Are we happy that we have been brought here? Are we happy that this has been done to us? Is this really for our own good? Who are you? Why did you do this?

Are answers to be expected to questions we ask? As in does every question necessarily fetch an answer? Should it? Are we right to expect questions will fetch answers? Or can questions be asked and allowed to float in waves and peter out, like wind funnelling out of a balloon and the balloon becoming not a balloon at all but a sorry shrunken vestige of itself?

If agar

But magar

What maaney kya?

Bolo what maaney kya?

2002, Ayodhya, Indian Express, Reportage

This piece was first published in December 2002, the tenth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid

“What Do You Do, Even the Gods are Locked in Dispute”

Sankarshan Thakur, Indian Express, Ayodhya

You will go back disappointed, said the former Raja of Ayodhya. Nothing here ten years later, he said, the action was further west, in Gujarat, where Babri VIPs were lining up to cheer their new hero. So Sankarshan Thakur and photographer Prashant Panjiar let Ayodhya’s residents tell their stories: from an ailing architect of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement to boys who sell Babri demolition cards they can’t read. From a Muslim shoemaker who watched his shop burn to a mason who’s chipping away at the pillars of a very real and, at the same time, a very imagined temple.


The time was about right, we were told, but we had got the place terribly wrong. However could we have mixed up Godhra with Ayodhya? That is where it is all happening this year, isn’t it, in Gujarat, that last surviving fortress where a make or break battle rages. In Ayodhya it was going to be all symbolic and this time, unlike December 6, 1992, they honestly meant it. There weren’t enough of them around to manage anything beyond the symbolic.

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