A Biographical Note
|Note: This article is based on the original G.V. Desani Wikipedia article.
Born in 1909 of Indian parents in Nairobi, Kenya, Govindas Vishnoodas
Dasani spent his childhood in Sind, now part of Pakistan. Known as a child
prodigy, between his 7th and 12th year, he managed to run away from home
twice and was expelled from school at thirteen as unteachable. At the
third attempt to escape, he reached England. Not yet 18, and a minor, at
the personal recommendation of the then Deputy Leader of the Labor
Party in the British House of Commons, George Lansbury, he was admitted
as a reader in the library of the British Museum.2014: A brief biographical entry on G.V. Desani appears in The Open University: Making Britain (open.ac.uk). It
states that Desani lived in Britain from 1926-28 and 1939-52. His
parents were described as wood merchants. His initial
journey to England was described as a (successful) effort to escape from an arranged
marriage. Archival information was ascribed to the BBC Written Archives
Centre, Caversham Park, Reading, England.
At 19, he was one of the foreign correspondents serving newspapers from
London. At 25, he was a correspondent of the Times of India, Reuters and
the Associated Press. About that time, he was sponsored by the then
Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, one of the great railway
systems of India, as Lecturer on the antiquities of Rajputana, Ajmer and
Delhi. A special circular, issued by the Director of Education, Delhi,
stresses the great value of his lectures. Somewhere along the way he
became G.V. Desani.
During World War II, Mr. Desani was back in Britain. Waiving their
strict academic requirements, the Imperial Institute, the Council for
Adult Education in the British Armed Forces, the London County Council,
the Wiltshire County Council, and the Royal Empire Society, accepted him
as a lecturer and teacher.
One of the few speakers who could fill to overflowing an auditorium of
the size of the New Picture House, Edinburgh, or the New Savoy, Glasgow,
his public meetings throughout the war, were sponsored by the British
Ministry of Information.
His lectures in the Crane Theatre, Liverpool, the White Rock Pavilion,
Brighton, the Geography Hall, Manchester, the Town Hall, Southampton,
the Pump Room, Bath, the Great Western Docks, Plymouth, the Carnegie
Library, Ayr, the Central Library, Manchester, were widely publicized by
the Ministry and his audiences varied from businessmen, teachers,
munitions workers where his talks were relayed to thousands at a time to
army, navy, air force and civil defence personnel, hospitals,
resettlement units, prisons and American servicemen stationed in
Recalling his sensational rise as an orator in Britain, Anthony Burgess
writes that Mr. Desani demonstrated to the British, "... in live speech
the vitality of the British rhetorical tradition, brilliant in Burke and
Macaulay, decadent in Churchill, now dead."
During the war years, Mr. Desani wrote and broadcast regularly for the
B.B.C. The organ of the B.B.C., the Listener, welcomed him as "... a
broadcasting discovery ... a voice singular in its beauty." Among the
centers of learning, the New College, Oxford, the Rhodes House, Oxford,
the Trinity, Cambridge, and the Psychologisch Laboratorium of the
University of Amsterdam, invited him to read learned and specialized
It was, however, the publication in Britain in 1948 of his experimental novel, All About H. Hatterr,
that attracted the widest attention on both sides of the Atlantic and
in India. T.S. Eliot said of it, "... In all my experience, I have not
met with anything quite like it. It is amazing that anyone should be
able to sustain a piece of work in this style and tempo at such length."
All About H. Hatterr broke all publicity records for a book published that year (Writer, London). The tone of the reviewers was of surprise and awe (Newsweek,
1951). In the United States, too, it earned the highest critical
acclaim. Orville Prescott, in his Book of the Week review, in The New York Times,
said of it, "... To describe a rainbow to a child born blind would not
be much more difficult than to describe the unique character of All About H. Hatterr
... as startling as a unicorn in the hall bedroom. Reading it issues
dizzy spells, spots before the eyes, consternation, and even thought."
Saul Bellow, in The New York Times, chose it for his Book of
the Year selection (1952), (calling it) the book "I love." No writer in
the late forties, or since, has been compared to so many literary
greats, both Eastern and Western, or more honored by his fellow writers.
Mr. Desani's Hali, an unclassifiable poetic work, which followed his All About H. Hatterr,
after five years, was introduced by T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster. Eliot
described its imagery as "... often terrifyingly effective," and Forster
wrote, "... It keeps evoking heights above the 'summitcity' of normal
achievement," ('summitcity' "where the highest aspirations reach"). The
work was greeted by a chorus of distinguished praise regardless of its
size (about 50 pp.).
After his return to India in 1952, Mr. Desani spent nearly fourteen
years in seclusion. He practiced mantra yoga, and other methods of Hindu
and Buddhist mental culture, under guidance of teachers, traveling as
far as Japan for specialized practice. At the invitation of the then
Burmese Government (1960), he spent a year in a monastery practicing
vipassana meditation, for some three months, reducing his sleep to two
hours in 24. It was in Burma that he studied the obscure Theravada
Buddhist text, the Abhidhamma, under a Burmese traditional teacher of the doctrine.
Requested by the Burmese Foreign Office, the Ministry of Religion,
Government of Burma, chose Mr. Desani as the most authoritative speaker
on yoga and Buddhist meditation techniques, to address a
specially-invited audience of the Diplomatic Corps in Rangoon. Justice U
Chan Htoon, the then Judge of the Supreme Court of Burma and the
President of the World Federation of Buddhists (later held under house
arrest by the government), presided over the meeting.
Mr. Desani, as an acknowledged teacher of these highly specialized
techniques, has addressed the most distinguished audiences. The Indian
Consular Services have provided him facilities to address select
audiences in Karachi (Pakistan), Jakarta (Embassy of India), Tokyo
(Embassy of India), as far as Sydney, Australia. The External Services
of All India Radio, over the years, have provided him with a worldwide
From 1962-67, as a special contributor to the Illustrated Weekly of India
(The Times of India group), Mr. Desani published approximately 170,000
words of fiction, contemporary comment, criticism, book reviews and —
before leaving for the United States, for a year and a half — wrote an
unsigned weekly page ("Very High and Very Low"). Mr. Desani, until
coming to the States, was one of the most widely read and influential
journalists in India.
Some of his material was requested for publication in Britain and the
States by, among others, the TransAtlantic Review and the Noble Savage,
edited by Saul Bellow.
Mr. Desani's work, it is obvious, can be divided as purely creative and
as a contribution to international understanding. No less an authority
than Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, then Ambassador of India to the U.S.S.R., and
Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions in the University of Oxford,
and later President of India and among the distinguished Westerners,
Prof. Edmond Blunden, Oxford, Lord Butler, the Minister of Education in
Britain, Prof. Vincent Harlow, Oxford, Sir Harry Lindsay, Lord Sorensen,
Prof. E.L. Stahl, Oxford, Mr. R.J. Cruikshank have spoken warmly of
that aspect of Mr. Desani's work. The Marquess of Zetland, then
President of the Royal Asiatic Society, and formerly Secretary of State
for India and Burma, as far back as 1951, referred to him as, "... a
bridge between East and West."