GUEST POST and EXCERPT
The Tailor's Needle
by Lakshmi Raj Sharma
Author Lakshmi Raj Sharma joins me today to share a guest post and an excerpt from The Tailor's Needle. Keep an eye out for my review later this year.
Cambridge-educated Sir Saraswati Chandra Ranbakshi is a towering public figure in early twentieth century India. A firm believer in the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, he also has faith in the virtues of the British Raj. As a result, he has to mediate between the Maharaja of a princely state and the Viceroy and strike a fine balance between tradition and modernity. This tussle between old and new values is reflected in his three children, the daredevil Maneka, the timid Sita, and their brother, Yogendra, who turns their father’s world upside down by falling in love with a lower-caste girl.
A comedy of manners laced with intrigue and excitement, The Tailor's Needle explores some of the great moral dilemmas of pre-independent India with wit and sensitivity.
Watch a reading from The Tailor's Needle by Lakshmi Raj Sharma.
Lord Mortimer Edmund Griffin-Tiffin, His Excellency, the Viceroy of India, sat in his thickly cushioned chair looking at the mirror, which had a bejewelled frame, and saw in it the reflection of a rather comic face. His barber made every effort to ensure that His Excellency’s excellent skin remained unharmed by the exigencies of an overpowering pair of scissors. His moustaches, his side-whiskers, and his curly wurly hairstyle were examined from 360 angles to make sure that not a lock or curl stood out in rebellion and that every strand around the bald pate surrendered in submission.
“That’s not a bad job at all!” said His Excellency, “Am I free at last?”
“You were always free Sir!” said Mehmud, “It is we peepull who are slaves.”
“You’re getting cheeky, Maymood! I think my predecessor gave you far too much liberty. Who says India is enslaved? A country in which an ordinary barber can backchat so boisterously with one no less than the Viceroy himself, can hardly be called enslaved. Is it not a proof of the limits of permissiveness to which the British character can stoop?” said the Viceroy winking at his favourite Mehmud, the man who always provided His Excellency with lots of gaiety.
“Lord Sahab, you asking me? I says, there is in fact no limits to which the British character can st . . .”
“All right, all right,” said the Viceroy interrupting him, “Just because I like you, it doesn’t mean you’ll get away with anything that you choose to say. Come on, pull me out of this chair, will you?”
“Yes, Lord Sahab, I will. Just a meenut.”
The Viceroy was pulled out of one chair and put onto another, one that was even glossier and cushier. Four mirrors stood around the chair to facilitate His Excellency’s vision, which for the lack of a better phrase, could be described as “a vision that was focused ubiquitously”. He sat in admiration not only of his own head but also of his dear barber’s craft, which made his bulldoggish expression look more compromised and combed down. He ogled at his visage for long, trying to discover the response it would get from certain quarters. He thought of the males who mattered to him, viewing his face like Alexander the Great would when he dressed for his men. He then thought of what his homeland would make of his kind of a face; his countrymen, he held, were unduly critical. Next he contemplated what his mother would complain of regarding the new look his hairstyle had given him. Finally, he surveyed his face with the approving eyes of his Monarch. Somewhere deep within he could hear his inner voice say, “What a wonderful boy am I!”
His Excellency then turned his eyes on a life-size painting mounted on the wall in which Lord Curzon and the Maharaja of Baroda stood, each with a gun in hand, and two dead tigers (shot by them) at their feet. The painting made the wonderful boy smile further as he began to speak with an air of contentment:
“Maymood, am I not qualitatively different to that Lord in the painting?”
“You is actually quite different Sir!” said Mehmud, making the word sound like “dufferent”. “Lord Curzon Sahab was really great man!”
“You rascal! Don’t try my patience!”
The fifty-five year old wonderful boy then asked for his diary and was given it, instantly. The diary was covered with brocade. He opened the pages one by one and saw therein memories that made him smile. He read, ruminated, and grinned characteristically. He finally turned to December 21, 1917, and began to write his page for that day:
My thoughts a few days before Christmas:
India is a unique land. You can live here almost as if you were living in anonymity. The Indian mind is anything but critical. The Hindoos, particularly, accept you without exercising their judicious faculty. It is such a relief to live in a place where the scrutinising eye is missing. A few rebellious skirmishes here and there are disturbing no doubt, but otherwise you are loved for whatever you do. The man who is quite redundant in the home country suddenly acquires a dimension of greatness amidst this society of admirers. You kill a Hindoo and are loved by a Moslem and you cheat a Moslem and are admired by a Hindoo. How simple the mechanism is for the ruler in this country.
In India one need not be apologetic for remaining a bachelor. You can use your single status as an indication of your spirituality. I love the male world of this place. The more males you endear, the more you rise in peoples’ estimate. It’s a male-lover’s paradise.
Immediate Goals for Me:
(i) To acquire more territory (through the policy of annexation) from princely rulers that are careless. (Shouldn’t be a v. difficult task.)
(ii) To try, first of all, to get the state of Kashmere. The Maharaja there is ignorant. But he does have Sir Saraswati Chandra Ranbakshi to help him. That’s the man I should tackle. Ranbakshi’s education in England is likely to draw him towards me.
(iii) Try to manipulate more money at once. Mother must be waiting for her Indian fortunes.
(iv) To discover from the locals what some of my predecessors did to remain popular, and also what they did to hide their blemishes. I have to make serious effort to conceal my private life and expose the practical aspects of my sound self.
(v) To ensure that I don’t start rusting. I should read my Shakespeare and Dickens on a regular basis. Some of Swift might help as well.
(vi) To do things that would distinguish me from other viceroys who were often merely noblemen who came into power. I should rule over the hearts of Indian men. Going against Indian princes may help do this.
Having written his diary for December 21, the Viceroy signalled to Mehmud.
“Would you know Maymood, why Canister McClout hasn’t appeared before me for the last two days?”
“I don’t know Lord Sahab, but Kanastar has probably catched a heart-fever.”
“Good God! What kind of fever is that?”
“It is a fever in which the heart gets heated, and you feels cheated, when you is not fully greeted, and it refuses to obey the head.”
“Well, that’s poetry! You’re improving Maymood, though you’ve much to learn! The English language cannot be fooled around with. Canister, that awfully sweet idiot, is always up to some mischief or the other.”
“Yes, Lord Sahab, Kanastar is real idiot!”
“Shut up! Should we go in for my bath?”
“Yes, Lord Sahab, we will go in for your bath!” he replied with his imagination running wild as he followed this mighty man into the domains of his privacy.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"The Tailor's Needle perfectly blends a quaint writing style, likeable characters, theme, and plot to create a seamless literary quilt. I enjoyed learning about the interplay between Indian and English culture and history, as well as the interplay between characters with differing ideas on their roles in their families and society. Though a light read, the book touches on important issues." ~ Diane Kelly
"The Tailor's Needle is no ordinary novel. It is probably one of the most complete novels written India in the last few decades. It has something for everyone and a lot for the serious literary student." ~ abhimanyu pandey
"Lakshmi Raj Sharma has crafted his novel very well. Weaving a web of stories through simple prose and rich ideas he manages to retain the reader's interest. The Tailor's Needle is like reading about a past one is unfamiliar with. It navigates spaces between memoirs and old life-stories." ~ Bhanumati Mishra
"The novel is a tailor's needle indeed - passing with grace and ease through the fabric of society both Indian and English, the fabric of several narrative genres and traditions and the fabric of a reader's mind. This mind is quickly drawn into the lively world of the Ranbakshi family, from the privileged life in Kashinagar to farming near Mirzapur, from battles of wit with the Viceroy to the twisted encounter with a spoiled aristocrat in a gothic castle in Amritsar. And into the wide and sweeping picture steps a wonderful cast of characters: a rebellious daughter, a righteous father, a self-serving and yet somehow likeable governess, a deliciously hateable dwarven cousin and a gender-confused dog - to name but a few. The whole is held together by a gently mocking and yet ultimately compassionate narrative voice, which gives the reader a brief and enchanting glimpse into a world now gone, with all its faults - and all that might be loved in it, too." ~ Mr. P. Hoyle
"The Tailor's Needle is a very interesting mingling of realism and magical realism. The reader will never repent going through the pages of this book because it has a wealth of experience to offer." ~ anand singh
Guest Post by the Author
The Tailor's Needle, first published in the UK in 2009, has been published in India by Penguin in December 2012. I could never have dreamed that this novel would sweep across the world this way. Perhaps the reason for its success in the market has been the fact that it is multicultural and therefore has aroused the curiosity of both the East and the West. The other feature that has possibly made it look interesting is that it takes the reader into the past; into a period that covers 1917-1945. The novel has captured minds somewhat like Oliver Goldsmith's novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, had done in its own time. Like that novel, The Tailor's Needle has possibly supported life in a unique way. It has tended to be read as a work that has the potential to be a substitute for religion, in the Arnoldian sense. In times when people lack the kind of anchor that religion provided long back, this novel has acted as a support that is much needed. It is not merely hilarious it has a philosophical dimension too.
That, however, is just one aspect of this novel. The other is that it has moments of the murder mystery, the gothic, the psychological novel, the post-colonial novel and above all provides what is sometimes called "literary tourism" - helping the reader to see another culture and another age. One critic insisted that it had more magical realism than any other novel to date. It is a Raj novel but it is not just that. It has something of Dickens, Orwell, Hitchcock, Forster and other Indian fictionalists. No wonder it has helped me to establish my career as a novelist. I have received requests to write the sequel to this novel.
About the Author
Born in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, in 1954, I have been educated in Allahabad. I have taught English at the University of Allahabad since 1979. I was selected for the Indian Civil Services in 1978 but chose to be a teacher. I married Bandana, my colleague in the English Department in 1982. We have a son, Dhruv, who is an etymologist.
Presently I am a Professor of English at the University of Allahabad. I have taught Literary Theory, Literature and Society, and Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama at the postgraduate level. I was the Head of the English Department for a two year term which was over last year. I have several scholarly books and articles to my credit in Indian and foreign journals. I wrote The T. S. Eliot-Middleton Murry Debate (1994), the very first book on the subject. The second book on this subject was published from Oxford six years after mine.
My first novel, The Tailor’s Needle, first published by Picnic Publishing Limited, UK, has now been published by Penguin Books India in December 2012. This is also an ebook.
My first collection of short stories, Marriages Are Made In India, was published by Writers’ Workshop, Kolkata, in 2001. This collection has now been published by Publerati (USA) in May 2012 as an ebook.
My short story, "Company Garden: A Story of Rebirth" has been published by Sonar 4 Publications, USA, in an international anthology of stories entitled, Whitechapel 13, in September 2011.
My story, "He and She" was published in an American journal called, Gather Kindling published from Washington DC in 2011.
My story, "A Postulant Demimonde Existence", has been published in [Vol. 1] Brooklyn, an American journal, recently.
My article "Charles Dickens and Me" has been published by the Oxford journal, English, in August 2012.
I was invited to the Brasenose College, Oxford, during the J. Middleton Murry Centenary, in 1989.
I have written and directed several plays which have become an annual feature at the Amaranatha Jha Hostel of the University of Allahabad.
Currently, I am writing four literary novels, one of which is a young adult novel.