After a long time, I read a book that is an example of brilliant storytelling. ‘A Village Dies – your invitation to a memorable funeral’ by Ivan Arthur. Published by ‘Speaking Tiger’.
It is a story in convenient flashbacks. TVD, is a story of two villages Kevni and Amboli, in erstwhile Bombay. A mixed community of East Indian, Anglo-Indian, Goan and Mangalorean live there. Through ages, the genes naturally get mixed. The attitude and approach to life changed just that bit. However, the village slowly dies.
Ivan Arthur captures this through the prism of the tomboy Kitty. She is attending the funeral of simpleton gravedigger Hanging Gardens and is remembering the life of the village she knows so well.
There are stories within stories. I liked that. Rather I really enjoyed it. They are intrinsic interwoven episodes of life. Every character alive to the real life around them. The thoughts, beliefs and eccentricity are all evident and amplified in the simple narration.
Sharing a paragraph from ‘The Village Dies’ (from Page 81): “On her subsequent visits to Byculla, she persuaded him to bring his guitar along. They would sit on two separate chairs across the room, she singing from those little pop songbooks that the Furtados had made popular, he improvising his own chords by ear. This discreet live stereophony (the concept had not yet caught on in Bombay) didn’t last long. The two chairs across the room were given up for the couch. They sat at the two ends of it—singer and accompanist—till songbook, and daylight was consumed. In time, the distance between singer and accompanist had shrunk until strings ad voice had merged into one indiscreet live monopoly.
A craftsman playing with short sweet sentences. Ivan Arthur makes it so easy on mind. He captures your attention from Page 1 and pulls you through the rest of 223 pages. Like an Indian movie, he does slacken the grip, a wee bit around the 200th page mark. There he speeds through ‘The Gulf of Kevni and Amboli’ and you tend to get upset with sudden introduction of pace in otherwise silent waters. However, right at the next corner, with ‘The Sultan’s Man’, he catches you back in the web.
I am surprisingly reminded of R K Narayan’s style of storytelling. There are loving families, changing attitudes, unsaid love and polarised reactions captured within compact paragraphs with easy, flowing narration. Ivan Arthur style of narration is a bit more complicated compared to simplicity of RKN, but it still has the same DNA.
‘The Village Dies’ is a compulsive reading. Too tough to put down. The village comes alive. You know each of the frames and turns. Though there are no visual references, nevertheless, you get a clear picture of every house and roads taking you there. You are with the characters. You are part of their lives, just over their shoulder. You fall in love with them and hate others. You feel their emotions. And that for me is great storytelling.
Here is another pick from ‘The Village Dies’ (from Page 184): “The story does that one of the younger ladies from these hutments had struck up a tender relationship with a bachelor from the East Indian home she was working in. What started with affectionate words and furtitive caresses swelled into a cataract of uncontrollable passion. Their affair didn’t go unnoticed. She overheard his mother to tell him not to be an idiot. The woman working in the neighbouring home called her aside and said, ‘Be sensible. These Christians will beat you up, and so will your husband’s people. Stop this foolishness’.
Every chapter is a complete story in itself. It is isolated. It is like steps on a ladder. You can halt at any one of them to take rest. Each step ultimately taking you that closer to a logical conclusion.
‘A Village Dies’ will have a place of respect and honour in my collection. I am sure it is not going to be uncaged for long unless I find a right reader to present it.
I have not read Ivan Arthur’s earlier works. Four of his books are: ‘Pavement Prayers’, ‘Once More upon a Time’, ‘Jossie’ or ‘The Fourteen Stations’. I think I read the fifth book ‘Brands under Fire’ but am unsure. However, with ‘The Village Dies’ I am hugely tempted to get my hands on them.
Ivan Arthur is former national creative director of JWT India (then Hindustan Thompson Associates or HTA). He spent 38 years in advertising before retiring in 2002. A Village Dies – Your invitation to a memorable funeral is available on Amazon.in at Rs 239.
Sanjeev Kotnala, well-known marketer, columnist, management consultant and a voracious reader, writes for MxMIndia every Wednesday