Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Writing for amusement

"Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!".... ...Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure, ch. 1 (1939).

I suppose Edna Ferber was talking about the actual physical act of writing as never being amusing - and I have to say I agree. I also feel that quite a lot of the time, the end product of that particular occupation - especially when meant to be humorous - falls painfully short of its aim. Then again, humour is such a subjective thing. What one person thinks is funny could easily whoosh right past another, completely unchuckled at.

I have many, many heroes in the humour section - Mark Twain, with his droll humour; Charles Dickens for his debut novel, The Pickwick Papers; P G Wodehouse, with his unexpected and hilarious turns of phrase; Jerome K Jerome, for solemn silliness; Tom Sharpe, for his trouble-prone protagonist, Wilt; Terry Pratchett, for almost literally every book he's ever written and every single terrible pun in it... the list is really endless.

One of my favourite authors - and it's very, very, VERY difficult to find copies of his books nowadays, especially in English - is Giovanni Guareschi. I was first drawn to his writings when I was in the 8th standard, through an extract from his book "The House that Nino Built". I found it very funny indeed, and it stayed funny despite my English teacher's ham-handedly sincere efforts to make the unappreciative students "understand" the humour in the writing by giving examples (!!)

It was only when I was in college (or even later, perhaps) that I managed to come across a tattered old copy of another of his books, "The Little World of Don Camillo", in what used to be Moore Market in Chennai. That was all it took to get me completely hooked. The short stories of a Catholic Priest, Don Camillo and his ideological run-ins with the Communist mayor Peppone, were hilarious and gently satirical. What impressed me was the ease with which Giovanni Guareschi distilled two huge ideologies and their ramifications into two basically simple characters and what seems like their little, local disputes. Eventually I got to read "The House that Nino Built" as well, and it was just as funny and sweet as I remembered it from all those years back.

I dont know if anybody will agree with me about this - but the author that GG most reminds me of is probably R K Narayan and his "Malgudi Days". There is something very universal at the heart of his stories that somehow make it appealing - and empathetic - to readers from any country. And that, I feel, is Giovanni Guareschi's appeal as well.

PS. When I did a search on the Net for Giovanni Guareschi, it came up with a link to a website set up by Vajrang Parvate (god bless him!) dedicated to GG. There are quite a few stories here, so happy reading!



Anonymous said...

I thought NOBODY remembered Don Camillo any more! Thanks a million for that link! Ever since I lost my copy of 'The Little World...' (and may the person who took it rot in hell) I've been hunting for ANY of the Don Camillo books. The Govt library in Ooty used to have quite a few -- that's where I read them. Sadly, some over-enthusiastic librarian got rid of ALL the English fiction at some point. This link is great -- bless the man who set the site up! And I'd almost forgotten about The House that Nino Built!! This has made my day! Thanks! Now if only some sane publisher will bring out the entire set of books GG has written... Btw, Do you think people don't read GG because they can't get their hands on the books, or that the books are out of print because people did not want to read them?

None said...

yo shyam!

WOW! thanks for the link!