Life happened because I turned the pages~~Alberto Manguel

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sorry, Wraith Picket, your book won't do

This has become almost too easy--take a famous book by a well-known author (in this case, a Nobel Prize winner), send out a few chapters to publishers and agents and rake in those rejection letters.

Even so, it's fun when it's Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm being rejected by a score of Australia's finest.

Jennifer Sexton reports for The Australian:

Not one reader recognised its literary genius, and 10 wrote polite and vaguely encouraging rejection letters. The highest praise was "clever". A low point was a referral to a "how to" book on writing fiction.
Pan Macmillan referred the author to writers' workshops; Mark Latham's agent, Mary Cunnane, recommended the author improve by reading Penguin Books' The Art of Writing, for hints on character and form. Text Publishing, which prides itself on finding and publishing Australian literature, sent back a form rejection letter and HarperCollins flicked it back unread.
For the experiment, the title of the manuscript was tweaked to become The Eye of the Cyclone, and an anagram was used for the author's name, Wraith Picket. And the age chosen for the 33-year-old father of one was the number of years that have passed since White wrote the novel.


Like tons of people out there, I'm irritated at the Blogspot/ Typepad/ Geocities block (Neha has a running update on the situation at Within/Without), chiefly because whoever ordered the ban borrowed his script from Kafka via Monty Python.

Is there an official block on these domains?
Sorry, we can't tell you.
If there isn't a block, why can't we access these sites?
Sorry, you're not authorised to receive that information.
Is there a government directive that might explain the situation?
Yes. But if we let you read it, we'd have to kill you.
Ah. Moving right along then, a conspiracy theorist said the domains are temporarily down because of suspected terrorist activity using blogs, is that true?
It depends. Are you a terrorist?
We'll have a Junior Under Deputy Secretary read your blog just to make sure; if you're still alive tomorrow morning, you have nothing to worry about.
Erk. I'm going to pretend you never said that. Is there any reason why your stupid hypothetical block doesn't cover Rediff blogs, itself, LiveJournal, MySpace and, well, while you're at it, how about blocking Google, Yahoo! and MSN?
That is a very useful suggestion, Madam, what were the names of those sites again?

Meanwhile, the Babu is getting used to ghostposting. It's kind of Dadaesque. I can post, edit posts, publish posts--and then, whoosh, they disappear off my screen. People in India whose ISPs haven't blocked blogspot can read them. People elsewhere whose countries aren't stupid enough to block blogspot for no discernible reason can read them. But having written them, I can't read them, unless I use RSS feeds or other clever tricks.

It's giving me a Peter Sellerish existential crisis: "There is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me but I had it surgically removed."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Heavenly bodies make exquisite corpse

("Exquisite Corpse: Game of folded paper played by several people, who compose a sentence or drawing without anyone seeing the preceding collaboration or collaborations. The now classic example, which gave the game its name, was drawn from the first sentence obtained this way: The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine."
--André Breton (Waldberg, 93-94)

If you've never played Exquisite Corpse before, here's how, and here's why, and here's the morgue.
This particular corpse was assembled in random fashion; it happened at a party, the laptop was placed temptingly on the balcony, and people wandered by, adding sentences at whim. Jeet Thayil played undertaker, cleaning up the corpse without rearranging its essential features.
The Meaning-Of-It-All Dept: I have no idea, except that it was fun. Go ask these guys.)


An exquisite corpse, made April 8, 2006, by Samit Basu Shakti Bhatt Rana Dasgupta Ruchir Joshi Tabish Khair Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan Monica Mody Vivek Narayanan Raveena Rawal Nilanjana Roy Anand Vivek Taneja Jeet Thayil

You are sitting in a bar, alone, and near you two men speak to each other in Bengali, a language you understand. They are talking about you.

Behind their two shining heads, very distractingly, is a birdcage hanging from the ceiling in which lilac birds of a strange and unfamiliar species squawk quite unnecessarily.

You realize that you also understand what the birds are saying—they are speaking Oriya, a language connected to Bangla. But your neighbors have not noticed this, which is normal: Bengalis never notice Oriyas.

The barman comes up to you and says something. To your relief you realize that you cannot understand a word of what he says. This places you at an advantage: you can give him any answer at all.

A parallel narrative: the blue cat prowled on six paws along the walls of the bar's open terrace.

But before it could leap sideways and sink claws of hot chromium into your not-so-willing flesh, the intrepid but incomprehensible barman whipped out a Mizo shotgun and blew her brains out. (That's what you think. Actually, the cat wrote off one life to the Great Account in the Sky; it grew jaguar claws and bit that barman in his intrepid but incomprehensible ass. Cats are like that.)

If I quoted Zafar at this point would this story rise in rebellion?

It would not; it would merely ignore you and move on.

Purring madly, the door was flung open by yet another lost buccaneer in search of a shot of java. (Stories change tense; they change person; they grow fangs; they die and come back to life. Stories change, that's what they do.)

He said: No more, I quit. But what the fuck does quit mean?

To abandon, to leave, to move on, move out, give up, give in?

I had to settle for java, but my nose was frisking for more.

Surely, life has life beyond Alcatraz?

Surely, life has life before empty spaces scream to be filled…

Like milk splashing into a jug,


As for you, sitting in that bar, do you wonder who I am? Do you wonder what was said, what terrible thing?

I wouldn't if I were you.

I'd just add my sentence and walk into the other room where your wife dances in sweet oblivion.

In that room: a man with a ponytail and a checked shirt, both inappropriate. The look on his face defied the propriety of the landed classes. He refused to leave, insisting, with the resilience of a Mughal tomb, "I'll stay."

Not to go is the reason we are here tonight, she said just before she got up to leave. And what could I say except, Don't? Or: Take me with you.

Amen is the name of this sequitur. Amen is the end of this game's world. The drinks were cheap, the people unbearably lovely. All of them were here.

What is automatic writing? If it is to follow the flashing of the mind it might only be the door in the night that finds the decent ruse of the manic client, the client at 4 A.M., who sacked the pretty boys, who toasted the unironic corpse with sincere intent.

Or not.

Zinedine Mersault

Roger Cohen compares Zidane to...Camus?

Camus, writing during World War II, the son of a man killed in World War I, captured a 20th-century senselessness in his story of a man driven to an irrational act for which he feels no remorse, for which in fact he feels nothing. The story of Zidane in the World Cup final is also a story of his age.

Hmmm. To quote Camus himself, "That must be wonderful. I have no idea of what it means."

Marvel vs DC

In the Washington Post, Hank Stuever asks the really big question (link courtesy Griff):

Marvel or DC?
Back when it mattered, you used to be certain. You would ally yourself and endlessly argue the merits in comic-book stores or at a convention at the airport Ramada. DC Comics, led by Superman, was for people who adored the fantasy, the Ubermensch triumphant. These readers loved skyscrapers and archvillains and sidekicks, billowing flags, unerring ethical strength.

Marvel, led by Spider-Man, was a place for the smart but troubled reader, the deeply weird. They loved the night, the underground, accidents in the lab. All that dialogue, so many thought balloons! The heroes always on some emotional ledge, and the hubris of it all -- a grittiness that came with saving the world.
DC was about younger kids in back yards, wearing bath towel capes, leaping from treehouses.
Marvel was about older kids in basements, possibly stoned, deconstructing Thor.
DC invented places to go -- Metropolis, Gotham City, Paradise Island.
In the Marvel universe, New York is New York, and it's nothing but trouble.
DC: It was always the Fourth of July.
Marvel: It was always Halloween.
DC: Comic books are a wonderful escape.
Marvel: Comic books are a dark refuge.

Shelley you must be joking?

What Kenneth Neill Cameron described as “One of the unsolved mysteries of Shelley bibliography” can now be solved, for a copy of the pamphlet has been discovered and is in the possession of the booksellers Bernard Quaritch.

But no. Shelley's long-lost Poetical Essay, the pamphlet he published anonymously the same year he was expelled from Oxford for writing The Necessity of Atheism, has been found, The TLS reports.

...The poem is dedicated “TO HARRIET W–B–K”, that is Harriet Westbrook with whom Shelley eloped in August 1811: this constitutes the first printed reference to the poet’s wife. The dedication is followed by a “Preface”, a short essay touching on politics and religion, calling for “a total reform in the licentiousness, luxury, depravity, prejudice, which involve society”, not by warfare, which he vigorously denounces, but by “gradual, yet decided intellectual exertions”. The poem which follows consists of 172 lines of rhyming couplets.
It ranges over the devastations of war, the fearless voice of Sir Francis Burdett, the iniquities of Castlereagh, the tyranny of Napoleon and the oppressions of colonial India.

I like this line in particular:

"The fainting Indian, on his native plains,
Writhes to superior power’s unnumbered pains”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Raja Rao (1908-2006)

Victor Rangel-Ribeiro on Raja Rao, who died this Saturday in Texas at the age of 97:

Because I belong to the generation of Nissim Ezekiel (b. 1924), which came two decades after the triumvirate of Indian fiction writers (Mulk Raj Anand, born December 12, 1905; R.K. Narayan, born October 10, 1906; Raja Rao, born November 21, 1909) who burst on the Indian and international literary scene in the 1930s, I would like to bear witness to the impact their writing had on us when we were college students. Since in those days one had just eight years of school and then immediately went on to college, it meant that many of us when we began our undergraduate studies were just 15 years old or younger: a most impressionable age. Between them, Mulk Raj and Raja Rao, and to a lesser extent R. K. Narayan, changed our way of thinking and our world.

My tribute is here; Amardeep has a lovely post on Raja Rao and Czeslaw Milosz; and here's the link to the Milosz poem addressed to Raja Rao that many of us instinctively thought of when we heard of Rao's death.

At the Raja Rao website, his former student David Iglehart has a note on the Raja Rao Publication Project:

The task before us is formidable. Raja Rao's wife, Susan, has filled half a room with boxes of his highly creative, insightful manuscripts, the outpouring of a lifetime. This includes four unpublished novels, stacks of short stories, hundreds of articles and essays, interviews, poetry in French, class notes, informal notes, plans for scholarly projects, and correspondence with Indira Gandhi, Octavio Paz, and Andre Malraux.
As a part of the Raja Rao Publication Project, I have edited The Daughter of the Mountain, which is the second volume of his trilogy based on The Chessmaster and His Moves. The manuscript for this second book consists of over 750 typed pages--many are covered densely with his hand-written notes.

At Samvad India, Makarand Paranjpe writes of a meeting with Raja Rao that took place five years ago. They discussed Daughter of the Mountain, among other things, and Makarand quotes the first paragraph:

Behind all sorrow is the Mahadukkha, the great sorrow of the sorrow that will be. What is can never become. Between is and is the stolen space where becoming vaunts its existence. But in truth, even the in-between is, thus becoming never was nor will ever be. Sorrow, the becoming, surfing, and eddying over the vastitude of our oceanic reality. Fools suffer for they take the wave to be the ocean. Water never becomes anything, but remains ever water. The waves - I was crossing the Japan sea - spill high on the rocks of Ninimuttu, from where Buddhist monks sailed over to Nippon, but the waves go back, again and again, having made aeons of effort to become land - they always reach back to the ocean. La mer, la mer, toujours recommence. In the ocean fishes eat fishes, coloured, many-limbed and many-headed, eaten by monsters ever heavier and longer but with one single head, and finally man comes with his boats, nets and electronics and drags them out of their home, to eat them for his own being: becoming eats back becoming to be. Thus samsara ends - in nirvana. And the cycle rolls on.

The Babu has to admit that he has often found Raja Rao's more philosophic work elusive, and suspects this might be the case here, but don't let that stop you from reading Chessplayer, The Cat and Shakespeare, and indeed, Daughter of the Mountain.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Duck does Indian SF

Samit Basu does a wonderful series of posts/ essays/ interviews on speculative fiction in India--archive this immediately.

Here's a sample, from the essay on IWE and the genre of speculative fiction:

"Spec-fic to friends, is essentially an umbrella, a bar where a number of disgruntled genres come to hang out, its leading patrons being fantasy, science fiction, horror and alternative history. It's claimed by the bartenders that magic realism is also a customer, though one suspects magic realism, a frequent invitee at
literary wine-and-cheese soirees, would deny this if asked....
...The sheer richness of India as a spec-fic source material resource....calls out for imaginative speculative treatment. And typically, this resource has already been mined by Western writers in search of something exotic to offer saturated Western SF markets.
This is not to suggest even for a moment, of course, that Indian writers should see themselves in anyway constrained to write only About India. At the same time,there's obviously nothing wrong with Indians writing about India and things Indian if that's the space in which the writing is naturally, organically set, and there are several Indian stories that survive,indeed, thrive on, constant retelling. And there are still a number of brilliant spec-fic novels just waiting to be written that are, in various senses, Indian, and if Indian writers don't write them, others will."

He's also done interviews with Anil Menon, Ashok Banker, Cheryl Morgan, Gotham Chopra
Jai Arjun Singh, Jaya Bhattacharji, Jeff VanderMeer, Manjula Padmanabhan, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Matthew Cheney, Payal Dhar, Rana Dasgupta, Sarnath Banerjee, Thomas Abraham, Vandana Singh and Zoran Zivkovic.

I like Sarnath's half-serious call for a ban:

Although clearly it can't be avoided, speculatively there should be a five-year ban on any thing on Hanuman, for the sake of Hanuman. And while you are at it Mahabharata and Jatakas, only for five years. Let us explore some other stories. I feel these tales have done what cricket has done to hockey and what Bollywood has done to other cultural forms that could have come out of India.

And Vandana Singh's even-handed prescription:

Indian SFF cannot help but be influenced by the great Anglo-American SFF tradition, but if we want to influence it in turn, rather than be second-rate imitators, we must forge our own views, our own imperatives, our own universes. Part of that involves reading and thinking about what the world has to offer --- read Asimov, Le Guin, Calvino, Borges, Li Po, the Epic of Gilagamesh --- and part of it involves what and who we are --- read Premchand, the Ramayana, Ghalib, the Bhakti poets. In other words we must always be aware of and in dialogue with the great works of the non-English Indian traditions (some of which, by the way, have vibrant SF literatures) from Madhavan Kutty to Premendra Mitra and beyond.

And Anil Menon's parable on the importance of taking what you need wherever you can find it:

It makes sense to use what one knows, but sometimes you gotta be stupid. Take Karl May, the German writer. He wrote stories, in German, about American cowboys. The cowboy movies of Sergio Leone were much influenced by May. Consequently, the baby-boomer's imago of the American cowboy comes from a German who'd only visited the US once, a few years before his death. There's a moral there somewhere.

Blotting the copyist's book

I'm coming in late on this, but bear with me.
This is what happened: Prufrock, who runs an admirable lit blog, spotted a paragraph in Mahmood Farooqui's 1,500-word review of Jan Dalley's book on The Black Hole in Outlook, that had been lifted directly from Anne Garvey's review of the same book in The Independent. Prufrock wrote this post; Mahmood responded, acknowledging the one-paragraph plagiarism but defending himself from broader plagiarism allegations. Prufrock accepted Mahmood's response and posted the defence on his website in the interests of fairness, but by that time, a lot of venom had been spewed out over at the Outlook website.

I'm not going to defend Mahmood, except to say that what he did was foolish and careless--but not criminal. (If you're wondering who Mahmood Farooqui is, here's a link to one of his more interesting projects, the revival of the ancient storytelling form known as dastans.)

Instead, I'd like to argue for higher standards for plagiarism. True plagiarism has an element of lunatic hubris about it; when the true plagiarist is caught, the ambition and scale of his plagiarism should make you blink in horrified awe. I still remember comparing a notorious column by V N Narayanan with the original by Bryan Appleyard, in stunned disbelief. Narayanan hadn't borrowed a line or a paragraph; he hadn't settled for stealing Appleyard's central idea. Instead, he had whacked the entire column, merely writing himself in so that he claimed Appleyard's experiences, observations and most intimate thoughts.
I spoke to Narayanan many months later, and it was a frightening conversation. The impression I received was of a man who was perfectly capable of original work, who had slowly, over the years, got used to "borrowing".
I imagine it would have started innocuously, with a borrowed idea, perhaps a borrowed quote; at some stage, he stopped seeing the need to use quote marks, and then he committed the equivalent of suicide in full public view by stealing the whole damn column.
"Of its 1,263 words, 1,020 words were mine," wrote Bryan Appleyard at the time. Like Appleyard, I had trouble understanding a key point in the defence Narayanan employed: sure, he might have "internalised" some of the writing, but as Appleyard said, how could Narayanan have "internalised" Appleyard's walk through Newark airport, without having performed said walk himself?
The other truly notorious case of plagiarism in India concerns Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen, whose novel, Crane's Morning, was almost identical to Elizabeth Goudge's Rosemary Tree. Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen died shortly after the plagiarism was uncovered; at the time, what struck me and anyone who read the two books side-by-side was how thorough the plagiarism was, how the opening lines, the dialogue, the characters were identical. Today, what strikes me is how hard Aikath-Gyaltsen worked to transplant a novel set in an English vicarage to the "tumbledown village" of Mohurpukur in Bengal. There could have been no "internalising" here; as she worked, changing small details about the house, the villagers, the landscape, but leaving Goudge's plot, characters, dialogue and structure intact, she must have been sharply aware of what she was doing. Writing is less tolerant of "versions" and "variations on a theme" than either art or music, for good reason; but if Aikath-Gyaltsen had presented Crane's Morning as an experiment in cultural and geographical translation, rather than as her own, original work, it would have been a highly successful experiment.

Narayanan may be an extreme case, but his kind of plagiarism is something that all of us who write for a living secretly fear might happen to us. Most of us read furiously: books, newspapers, magazines, columns on the Net, blogs. As Anne Fadiman commented when speaking of John Hersey's extensive--and unacknowledged--borrowings from her mother's writings, one of the occupational hazards of being a certain kind of reporter or editor-writer is that you get used to running other people's prose through your typewriter and calling it yours. Another occupational hazard is simply that much-derided plagiarism defence: it was my unconscious wot done it, so sorry. It's been over-used, but cryptomnesia does occur more often than we realise.

Aikath-Gyaltsen, on the other hand, sets my standard for what plagiarism of the worst kind really is: grand larceny carried out on a scale where the plagiarist also manages to inflict terrible and irreparable psychic damage on herself or himself.

Prufrock was perfectly correct to flag Mahmood's stolen paragraphs. But there is a distinction between the kind of plagiarism that raises a gasp of moral outrage, the grand theft of the soul of another writer's work, and the kind that raises just a warning flag.

Being at the receiving end of plagiarism accusations is a strange experience; this happened to me only once, when someone wrote in to say I had plagiarised a piece on Vikram Seth that came out in the Business Standard from a piece in the Financial Times about Vikram Seth. My piece was carried in the Lunch with the BS section; the piece I was supposed to have plagiarised from was carried in the Lunch with the FT section. The confusion in my accuser's somewhat dim mind was understandable: there was Rahul Jacob of the FT having lunch with Vikram Seth, and there, just the next month, was the Babu at BS swearing that it, too, had lunched with Vikram Seth. (It didn't seem to occur to my accuser that Vikram Seth might eat lunch more than once, and that too, with different reporters in different restaurants in different cities.)
But the accusation had its effect. For a brief, but dizzying moment, I found myself questioning my memory. Had I really taken Vikram out to lunch? Had we really ordered fried prawn and meen moiley? Had he really hummed in time to the Carnatic music drifting from the speakers? Had the waiter recommended the appams to me, or was all of this just a figment of my overheated imagination?
And worst of all, was I really me, or was I in truth Rahul Jacob?
A few months later, Rahul Jacob came by for dinner at the Babu's place and was very reassuring on this subject: I was most definitely not him, he said kindly. Such a relief to have that cleared up.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The name is Colaabavaala, Captain Colaabavaala

The excellent Naresh Fernandes on the life and bizarre career of Captain F D Colaabavala, ex-Indian Army (and Navy) man who hitchiked around the world, wrote colourful and almost certainly exaggerated accounts of his exploits (Time Out Mumbai link: might require subscription/registration):

He walked on the wild side. In Indian Mafia in Action, he set out to uncover “the heartland of the crime world” and had encounters with “smugglers, drug merchants, fake currency and traffickers in girls and women”. In Bombay By Night, he discovered a metropolis that is a “round-the-clock, twenty four hours, action-packed, ring-a-ding place of unbridled friendliness…a riot of fun and sex in the raw”. In Sex Slaves of India, he found himself in Mumbai’s red-light district, “a queer mixture of a place – perhaps the world’s toughest, most savage, unprincipled, dissolute [area], stepped in violence and full of bizarre, thrilling sextoxications for a man looking for the fulfilment of his libido”.
If you’re a Mumbaikar of a certain vintage (and bent of mind), you’ll have no trouble identifying the distinctive prose of Captain Firooze Darasha Colaabavala, the indefatigable chronicler of life in the city’s darker alleyways. His alliterative, hyperbolic reportage could once be found everywhere: in the Blitz, in his own short-lived tabloid, Whisper, and in the half-a-dozen or so slim paperbacks he wrote from the mid-1970s to the early ’80s.
Until recently, Mumbai’s pavement booksellers always seemed to have a copy or two of such Colaabavala classics as Tantra: The Erotic Cult, Witchcraft: The Forbidden World of th e Devil and Sin Cities of the World (“There is sexitement, sexation, sexapades, sexoticism, sextravaganzas round-the-clock 24 hours go-go-go,” promises the cover). Of late, though, all Colaabavala’s books seem to have disappeared into the great shredder in the sky, with rare copies selling on the internet for an average price of $25.

Naresh reports that Captain Colaabavaala's Hippie Dharma might find its way back into print, with a little help from Pankaj Mishra. Gwan of Gwan's Book Club offers a glimpse of Colaabavala's style:

WITH REAL-LIFE PHOTOGRAPHS, by Captain F.D. Colaabavala. The first such REAL-LIFE PHOTOGRAPH features a naked woman dancing in front of a man (back to the camera) in a loin cloth. Here's the caption: 'Look! And look again! A lissom lass dancing a voluptuous nautch around a man who stands bewildered and helpless' (how they knew from his back he was 'bewildered and helpless' ask me not...)

Anthony Doerr and the short story

From Beatrice's Selling Shorts series, Ben Percy on Anthony Doerr:

It isn't often that I crack open a story and feel profoundly jealous....
That's what happens when I read The Hunter's Wife (from The Shell Collector).
I have quite frankly had enough of these stories where a woman makes tea in her kitchen, where a man goes to the grocery store and aimlessly wanders its aisles, where over dinner they take tiny bites of lemon basil chicken and speak to each other without really speaking to each other. Throw in a sick kid and a bleak epiphany, and bam, we're done. Essentially nothing happens.
In Doerr's fiction, stuff happens. He never forgets that a reader is ultimately interested in this question: what happens next?
So blizzards come howling down from the mountains, a magician saws his young female assistant in half, a hunter fires arrow after arrow into a pack of half-starved coyotes, a mysterious dinner party reunites estranged lovers.
And there is magic.

So there is. Check out Doerr's short piece from The Morning News, We Are Mapmakers:

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about: We are mapmakers, all of us, tracing lines of memory across the spaces we enter. We embed memories everywhere; we inscribe a private and complicated diagram across the landscape; we plant root structures of smells and textures in the apartments of girlfriends and the station wagons of friends and in the living rooms of our parents.
Viewed from above, our memories might look like a satellite photo of Earth at night: a black half-sphere punctuated here and there by clusters of lights.
These are the population centers, the known territories, the illuminated districts. We live in them; we feel (mostly) safe; we drive to the grocery store and the pool hall without getting lost. Elsewhere the lights make slender ramifications into the dark, a few threads of flame burning here and there, five months in Kenya, a winter in New Zealand, a year in Rome. And then there are the dark areas: the uncharted realms, the borderlands, unsurveyed and unknown. Our Antarcticas, our Neptunes.

The Quiet Englishman

(Via Maud Newton)John R MacArthur may have been the last man to interview Graham Greene before the author's death in 1991. His focus was on Greene's politics, not the books, but it's still a piece worth reading:

When I first saw Graham Greene, he was lunching outdoors with his longtime mistress at Chez Felix, Greene’s favorite restaurant in the old French port of Antibes. It was early October of last year and sunny, and he was wearing a long gray coat against a hint of autumn coolness.
I knew he hadn’t been feeling well and I happened across him by coincidence —several hours in advance of our as-yet unconfirmed meeting — so I curbed my inclination to interrupt his meal with an aggressively friendly American hello. By now, after months of pursuing an interview, I’d learned that Greene valued his privacy. Although I’d always thought of him as a citizen of the world, as I spied him from a distance he looked very much the Englishman abroad, armed with a typically English shield of inaccessibility to ward off the casual intruder.
This chance encounter allowed me to view him in a way I could not, later on, in his apartment. I sat down on the lip of an old well about 30 yards away and observed the “great man” of 20th-century English letters. The first thing I noticed were his eyes, which seemed to be staring into a wide middle distance, absorbing everything. He looked his age, but his eyes somehow had the power of a much younger man.

"The subjects of the Exalted One will all be destroyed"

(Punch cartoon, The Asiatic Mystery)

William Dalrymple offers a distinctly different view of 1857 in this essay for Outlook, which introduces some of the subjects he writes about in the soon to be published Last Mughals:

The [story of the ] Great Mutiny has usually been told by the Marxist historians of the 1960s and 1970s primarily as a rising against British economic policies. Over the last three years, however, my colleague Mahmoud Farooqi has been translating some of the 20,000 Urdu and Persian documents, many previously unaccessed, that we have found in the Mutiny Papers section of the National Archives of India. This has allowed the Rising in Delhi to be seen from a properly Indian perspective, and not just from the British sources which to date it has usually been viewed.
What was even more exciting was the street-level nature of much of the material. Although the documents were collected by the victorious British from the palace and the army camp, they contained huge quantities of petitions, complaints and requests from the ordinary citizens of Delhi—potters and courtesans, sweetmeat-makers and over-worked water carriers—exactly the sort of people who usually escape the historian's net. The Mutiny Papers overflow with glimpses of real life: the bird-catchers and lime-makers who have had their charpoys stolen by sepoys; the gamblers playing cards in a recently ruined house and ogling the women next door, to the great alarm of the family living there; the sweetmeat-makers who refuse to take their sweets up to the trenches in Qudsia Bagh until they are paid for the last load.
We meet people like Hasni the dancer who uses a British attack on the Idgah to escape from the serai where she is staying with her husband, and run off with her lover. Or Pandit Harichandra who tried to exhort the Hindus of Delhi to leave their shops and join the fight, citing examples from the Mahabharat. Or Hafiz Abdurrahman, caught grilling beef kebabs during a ban on cow slaughter and who comes to beg the mercy of Zafar. Or Chandan, the sister of the courtesan Manglu, who rushed before the emperor as her beautiful sister has been seized and raped by the cavalryman, Rustam Khan: "He has imprisoned her and beats her up and even though she shouts and screams nobody helps her.... Should this state of anarchy and injustice continue, the subjects of the Exalted One will all be destroyed".