Hatterr is an erratic, well read, endearing soul who is constantly getting into hilarious situations.
I have just finished reading an extraordinary novel, a unique invention of brilliant chaotic English with deliberate disregard for grammar and syntax. The title of the book is All About H. Hatterr, a comic farce. The author, G.V. Desani. How many of you have heard his name? Very few I should think.
The novel was published in 1948 in London. It was critically acclaimed including by T.S. Eliot. It sold out in two weeks. Reissued in 1950. Then it went underground for twenty years. Who was G.V. Desani? He was born in Kenya in 1909. During the Second World War he lived in London, broadcasting for the BBC. After the war he came to India. For fourteen years he practised meditation and yoga, travelled to Japan to study Japanese Buddhism.
I met him only once in 1961, at a function at Sapru House. Jawaharlal Nehru was the principal attraction. For a while Desani wrote for the Illustrated Weekly of India. For several years he taught (I don’t remember what) at Texas University. He died in 2000 at the age of 91, in Fort Worth, Texas.
The hero of the novel is H. Hatterr. An erratic, well read, almost endearing soul who is constantly getting into hilarious situations and getting out of the mess he has created for himself. He can’t make up his mind whether he is an Eurasian philosopher or a believer in Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism. Desani has created a character who I am unable to define. He is the ultimate literary original.
Now I come to Desani’s glorious English, which leaves the reader breathless. It is impure English, but English it is. I must mention that G.V. Desani was an awesomely well-read writer. He was fluent in many languages.
Let me quote a few passages of his stunning non-English English. In spite of its complexity and peculiar wit, it flows like a river.
“As it is lowered, I see the huge nickle name-plate, studded on the teak. The embossed Gothic micrography on it reads:
‘Mailed cash on delivery to Westminster Abbey. H. Herterr, Esqur (Mississippi), D Litt (Oxon and Moskva, Oxford, PA), Member Academy (France, Tokyo Royal), Hon. M.D London, Dr (Bulgarian Gramatikata), Dr (Uniwersytet Polski), DR. Theologiac (Bagdad, Salerno, Montpellier, High A Sophia, Heidelberg stadium), M.S. M.S.C (Cantab), Hon D.D (Canterbury), Vice-President, Red Cross (Headquarters), PH.D (St. Petersburg, Rus. Soyuz Sotsialist- Icheskikn Sovyetskikn Republik), B.A Eton and Harrow Weald Stone). Graduate (Harvard), Fellow of The Royal Geographical, Humane, automobile, Asiatic, Astronomical and Microscopic societies, M. Inst. Fire E (Manchester), Parliamentary Whip, India, Dental Surgeon (Boston, Mass), Chairman (Br. Pharmacopocia), Director, Limited, liabilities, foreign assets (Shanghai, Malay, Glasgow, Port Sunlight…”
Let me give another inimitable example of G.V. Desani’s creative inventionability (this word I have made up).
“O Jewell the soles of her feet as enticing as mango blossom! As spice from Madras! Her speech sweet, as the dates of Arbi! Her voice caressing, as the touch of the Chameli flower! A sweet-heart wife, her abdomen endowed her by no other than the goddess Sachi! forehead by Shakuntla! Buttocks by Ahilya! Navel by Mandotri! Legs by Kadambari! Belly by Madhavi! Nipples by Rambha! Teeth by Hidama! Chin by Chitrangda! Nose by Sita! Insides by Urvashi! Veins by Devali! Elbows by Savitri! Tongue by Gargi! Head by Kunti! Bones by Modari! Divine, immortal heroines all! Mana of Radha, Shakti, Parvati, the Mother of the gods! O the smiter-of-hearts! O the fay! A sweetheart-wife, a sweetheart-wife, blessed with an angels-envied bosom, as seductive as a lake of honey! Ah. The clinging sweetness of her lips!”
“Nest. ‘O.K Professor. I give you the word lense (English), it is lente (Spanish), lentil (Romanian), linse (German), Lentille (French), Linte (Italian), lens (Dutch), lins (Swedish), linte (Portuguese), linse (Danish), soezewka (Polish), linse (Norwegian), cocke (Czech), sociva (Serbo-Croat), lenese (Hungarian), linssi (Finnish), adese (Turkish), lense (Indonesian), renzu (Japanese), kioo (Swahili), lenso (Esperanto), linsa (Russian), facos (Greek), adascha (Hebrew), lens (Yiddish), adasa (Arabic). In Samskrit it is Kacha, in Hindi, Sheesha, Urdu, Gujarati also Sheesha. Excuse mistakes.’”
“Consider the name ‘Jawaharlal Nehru’. It is literally, ‘Jewellery, Ruby Canal or River’. His father ‘Motilal Nehru’ would be “Pearl Ruby Canal or River”. ‘Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is ‘Great-soul Fascination—Slave Action-moon Grocer”, and “Raja Krishna Hutheesing” “Governor or Ruler Dark Obstinate-lion”
I should clarify. Krishan Hutheesing was Nehru’s youngest sister. Her husband was called Raja.
Can you figure out what You Essay stands for?
Would you like to read, “All About H. Hatterr”