Selected Quotes from Reviews and Commentaries
G.V. Desani enjoyed weaving his "talking points" into a tour de force for the occasional editor, writer, student, or academic colleague who he came across. He eagerly looked forward to critical reviews and other commentary ... and no wonder:
- "... (All About H. Hatterr) is revolutionary in English literature." — Benjamin Slade
- "... two very important novels, James Joyce's Ulysses and G. V. Desani's All about H. Hatterr" — Srinivas Aravamudan
- "... the first genuine effort to go beyond the Englishness of the English language." — Salman Rushdie
Here, then, are some Internet-age talking points for Prof. Desani. (The most recently found are generally listed toward the top.)
A recent Google search for 'Desani' yields 542,000 results including the fact that there is a 10-room Desani Holiday Inn in Varanasi, India and an award-winning design studio in the UK with offices in LA, Chicago and Athens. The search engine also offers up Dasani, Coca-Cola's purified water (3.3 million hits). Dasani water was introduced in 1999, a year before the author's death. Coca-Cola literature describes DASANI as being an invented word which its consumer testing showed to be "relaxing and suggestive of pureness and replenishment." Desani's family name was actually 'Dasani'; for obscure reasons he changed his name in 1941, while living in Britain.
Ruvani Ranasinha, South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain: Culture in Translation, Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 2007.
… Desain's exuberant, boisterous satires stand out against their forerunners' construction of 'Indian-ness' in their novels.…
Rushdie’s acknowledged debt to migrant writer G. V. Desani’s (1909–2000) subversion of Standard English suggests the ways in which earlier anti-colonialist writers had made his oppositional rhetoric possible, and point to the generational dynamics Desani’s ‘rigmarole English’ did not have the same subversive impact as Rushdie’s Angrezi. Although enthusiastically received by T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, and later Anthony Burgess, a dismissive review of Desani’s All About H. Hatterr, when first published in 1948, indicates other responses to the subversion of Standard English in the socio-political climate in which Desani wrote, only a year after Indian Independence. In 1948 theTimes Literary Supplement suggested that Desani’s novel is "strictly speaking" not in the "realm of fiction." It describes Desani’s "largely colloquial style" as one which "allows him to take all kinds of liberties with common English usage, and a fresh if somewhat blustering approach to everything that comes within his scope." At best, Desani’s writing "never loses a certain jejune verve." The novel is summed up as "a morass of verbiage."
In marked contrast to Anand and Nehru who supported Gandhi’s policy of non-co-operation during the Second World War, G. V. Desani broadcast several talks urging fellow Indians to resist Japanese and German armies on behalf of the British army and the Imperial Institute.
YgRbookS sellers, description and photos, All About Mr. Hatterr, Aldor, first edition, inscribed by the author, sold.
"Sara", commenting on All About H. Hatterr's NY Review of Books edition:
I would say that Hatterr is one of the books we've had the most requests to republish. And it's always a pleasure to be able to respond to such requests with a simple, 'Done.'
Desani.org is a website devoted to the author. The "Talking Points" section of the site is fun.
Minoli Salgado, "Migration and Mutability: The Twice-born Fiction of Salman Rushdie," British Culture of the Postwar, Chap. 2.
1948 also marks the publication of G.V. Desani's novel All About H. Hatterr. … The novel's pastiche form, its syncretic linguistic play, its focus on the cultural hybridity and fractured subjectivity of an individual (who allies himself with the devil) seem remarkably contemporary post-modernist concerns. Indeed the work of Salman Rushdie, who was himself born just a year before All About H. Hatterr's publication, could be said to be parented by this cultural fusion of the post-modern and post-colonial.
The Modern Novel web site, biographical note, "Though he, to all intents and purposes, only wrote one book – All About H. Hatterr – Desani can lay claim to being the founder of modern Anglo-Indian literature." Adding, on a page about the book itself, "If we judge this book by its supporters, it would be one of the best-known books around."
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James Cummins, Bookseller, in which All About H. Hatterr is described as the "first postcolonial Indian novel."
AbeBooks is selling various used editions of Hali and All About H. Hatterr.
Kirkus Review, HALI and Collected Stories.
A varied collection, impressive in its use of religious and personal mythology — and lushly descriptive of a sensibility and a culture that is part English, part Indian, and uniquely Desani's own.
… Since the war, of course, there has been a flood of Indian novelists who produce in English. They are all fairly competent and fairly unremarkable. The exception is G. V. Desani, who is a kind of freak. Desani in 1948 produced one book, All About Mr. Hatterr, which seems to me a prose master piece.
The same page "G.V. Desani Posts" includes Vivek Tejuja's recommendations, 25 Books by Indian Authors (Nov., 2014) which lists All About H. Hatterr first.
Professor Dr. Martina Ghosh-Schelhorn coursework, "About G.V. Desani" is a subject in her Universitat des Saarlandes (Germany) course entitled Transcultural Anglophone Studies.
Tony Messenger, "Messenger's Booker" blog, All About H. Hatterr review, Nov. 16, 2018.
Before you join Hatterr’s journey seeking out seven sages, from Calcutta, Ranoon, Madras, Bombay, Delhi, Mogalsarai-Varansi and All India, you need to decolonize your thinking. The cultural impact of a colonial missionary upbringing is represented through Hatterr’s obscure and garbled English. What we have been taught is thrown back in our faces, forcing us to shift our paradigms.
C.N. Srinath, "G.V. Desani: All About H. Hatterr," Makers of Indian English Literature, C.D. Narasimhaiah, ed., Pencraft Int'l., 2000, 292 pp.
A painful realization of this is revealed (the laugh fades away and only the lump in the throat is visible) when [Hatterr] refers to those "who would not hesitate to steal flowers from a Pauper's cemetery, in order to decorate their own drawing-rooms." It is by such terrifying truths that Desani lifts the reader to a metaphysical plane and makes The Hatterr a significant story.… It is Desani's distinction that he invented a mode – comic, ironic, farcical – which gave full scope for the enactment of the truths of life which must have seemed to lose their edge in life by their relentless recurrence, and in art by being overworked in the tragic mode.
D.M. Burjorjee, "The Dialogue in G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr," World Literature Written in English, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1974.
The succès d'estime in 1948 of G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr and over 20 years of obscurity which followed have been to some extent compensated by its recent rediscovery. Perhaps the reviewers were in part to blame for the neglect of this novel, because they seem to have found it difficult to praise this "farrago of frenzied lunacy … as startling as a unicorn in a hall bedroom" without sounding fulsome or ponderously intellectual about its humor. Apparently the reading public was not drawn by phrases, however commendatory, about the incredible adroit linguistic distortions and rhetorical gymnastics in this most important item in Indo-Anglican literature. Indeed, T.S. Eliot's much-publicized appraisal of Desani's novel – "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…" – may, one suspects, have alienated a potentially large audience, especially when the reviewers (Indians in the lead) coupled the novel with Joyce and, inadvertently, the difficulties of Finnegan's Wake.
Comments such as "something between Joyce, Sterne and Mark Twain" (The Tribune); "… written in a style reminiscent of Joyce, with occasional echoes of Gertrude Stein" (Sunday News of India); "… backwash from Joyce and Proust" (Illustrated Weekly of India); and "Joyce, Sterne, Rabelais, Miller, Runyon and Saroyen – dash of them all, but unique enough to stand on its feet" (Life and Letters) did little for the sales of All About H. Hatterr.
Anirban Nanda, "A Forgotten Indian Masterpiece: All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani," review, April 18, 2016, blog entry. "I wanted to type and present [a] few [of the] more wonderful excerpts but what can I do? Every single page of this book is shouting brilliance and I can’t choose!"
C.M. Naim. "A Note on 'On About H. Hatterr' ", Mahfil, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1964), Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University, Carlo Coppola, et al., editors.
The set pieces on the Indian novel in English which appear from time to time in American and British periodicals as a kind of obeisance to the Commonwealth or celebration of the ubiquity of English, are remarkable less for their literary insight than for their predictability. In a tone mixing encouragement with pride, they recite the same small list of authors as worthy of note by readers with yearnings for catholicity. Even more remarkable than their dreary predictability is the absence of even an honorable mention of what is undoubtedly the most unusual and complex Indian novel in English – All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani. … As for … the two indefatigable chroniclers of Indian fiction for the NYT and The Reporter, they apparently were too horrified by the book's individuality to even mention it in their meticulous reports.
… while [Wyndham] Lewis wrote his book [Tarr] in anger and his pen was dipped in acid, Desani's book is full of compassion and joy. It entertains with verve and gusto, yet also makes us realize how naked we stand under our false garments; for Desani has seen the extremes of his times, and this unique novel is his way of forcing upon us awareness of the bloodbath we are in.
Bhavya Tiwari, "Beyond English: Translating Modernism in the Global South", PhD dissertation, UT Austin, Dec., 2014. "G. V Desani, a contemporary of [Raja] Rao, takes neologism, heteroglossia, polyglottism, and word-play to another level. His novel All About H. Hatterr demands a translatability that goes beyond understanding Indian English or other 'vernacular' languages. Unlike Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, where Joyce becomes an inspiration for an unaccountable murderous impulse, Desani’s All About H. Hatterr is written to incite an assassination of the author."
B.R. Agrawal and M.P. Sinha, Major Trends in the Post-independence Indian English Fiction, Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, 2003. "G.V. Desani in his novel All About H. Hatterr adds to the Joycean freedom of linguistic experimentation, a Rabelaisian exuberance, and a quirkiness which is Desani's peculiarity. The critics find in the language of his novel the English of Shakespeare, Joyce and Kipling, and in his sermonizing the tedium of long sittings in the house of Commons."
K.D. Verma, The Indian Imagination, Critical Essays on Indian Writing in English [Google scan], St. Martin's Press, NY, NY, 2000, "The writer who seems to resemble Desani in certain special ways is Sudhin Ghose, but the real extension of Desani is seen in Salman Rushdie's literary artistry in Midnight's Children.
Jeffra Hays, All About H. Hatterr, review, Dactyl Review, March, 2012.
Warning! “By the Count of Monte Cristo,” if you tend to laugh out loud, read this at home with a handy hanky. Beware — of animals, wise ones, libido and femmes. Warning! You might develop a crush, as I did, on Desani’s rhythms, nonsense, illogical illogic, and defiance of proper language rules. Writers are often asked, Which author influenced you? Not for me, that question — which author? Which book?! If Desani, with Hatterr’s help, did it, then I can give it a try, “damme,” to write with the windows shut, and hear what’s in my head. But who will read it, all this crazy stuff? I did, and went nuts.
" 'Amenwallah' is Hatterr – more fun with words that I remember, anywhere.' "
Michael Dirda, All About G.V. Desani, review of two books, Washington Post, Feb. 9, 1992.
The Indian G.V. Desani has written just one novel in his 82 years -- All About H. Hatterr (1948) -- but he's done rather well with it.
[On Hatterr] On any page the sentences may suddenly veer away into the strange and wonderful: "Last night I saw a dead mouse being thrown out of a trap by a surrealist neighbour. An Indian feller. Damme, it makes my blood boil to see mice being chucked about like that…" If you think that last phrase, especially its rhythm, shows sheer genius, you should happily follow H. Hatterr as he is thrown, indeed chucked, out of his club and decides to become a wandering fakir, later goes prospecting for treasure in disguise as a beggar, and eventually entertains a group of drunken Indian poetasters in the hopes of getting a special diploma that he believes will recharge his wife's sexual affection for him. Of course, these are nothing compared to the time he falls in love with a woman lion-tamer.
[On Hali] Hali relates the spiritual quest of its hero in a dithyrambic prose that verges on the incomprehensible and sometimes doesn't stop there. The language is pitched at what might be called the liturgical, a blend of the Song of Songs and "Lycidas," sing-songed by a Walt Whitman who finally made that passage to India. Some moments are quite lovely and lyrical: "Beyond the earth are more earths and more snares of dreams." Others are a blend of Dali and Kali: "Awed, frenzied, thy brothers and sisters shall war upon one another, and they shall shed their skins, and be drained of blood. And their ribs shall break, and their bones shall point to the sky, point like fingers to the sky. Ants shall nest in thy brothers' jaws and flies shall feed upon thy sister's breasts." The 25-page vision ends with a final transcendence, as Hali, his heart heavy laden with Rooh, the girlfriend whose premature death precipitates the quest, eventually finds peace with, or in, or as part of, the universe.
[On the Collected Stories]
Hali and Collected Stories will certainly be a little too strange for some tastes, but the adventurous should give these Borges-like Indian fairy tales a try. If you can handle the farther reaches of magic realism or the trickier Zen parables, they'll be a snap.
Parul Sehgal, NPR Books, "All Things Considered," July 16, 2013. Reference.
Various, R21CLUB forum, G V Desani thread, comments and reference to the 1989 video interview of Desani on his 80th birthday.
Atabi Saha, Scanning G.V. Desani's Hatterr Through the Lens of Colonial Mimicry, BEST: International Journal of Humanities, Arts, Medicine and Sciences, Vol. 4, No. 6, June, 2016. Research paper, Department of English, University of Calcutta.
Mimicry ... has been used not only as a means of imitating the colonial master but also as a site of muffled colonial resistance. As such, the colonial authority is inescapably marked by a note of ambivalence that disrupts the very notion of fixedness by which it attempts to characterize itself. The primary objective of this paper is to scrutinize the methods through which G.V Desani exercises colonial mimicry in his only novel All about H. Hatterr to enact a subtle colonial resistance from behind the facade of a simple tale of H. Hatterr, an Anglo-Malay man and his adventurous encounters with different sages. Thus, what appears to be a straightforward story is, in reality, not at all politically naive.
Desani’s linguistic hybridity lies in his random intrusion of French words and expressions such as petite dame, toilette, monsieur, Voila un home!, bon luck, Mademoiselle Francaise, to cite a few instances. Latin too makes its presence felt as in loco parentis, terra incognita, Sie vos non vobis. Such a language, according to Desani, is characteristic of Hatterr’s personality who is, as Anthony Burgess mentions, “[...] on the surface, a grotesque autodidact who has built up a remarkable vocabulary with the aid of an English dictionary and a French and Latin primer”. The adulteration of English with two widely different languages such as French and Hindi and the forceful indigenization of English terms result to form a peculiar sentence as “One morning, after my early morning chhota hazri of the usual--- the salted quinine tonic and soda, tea, toast (and downing half a rotten egg) – like l’apres midi d’un faunwallah – I was dilly-dallying in bed: having an easy laze, umpteen stretches.”
Hatterr’s English is also replete with constant use of ellipses, misspellings of Christian religious words, as in Ally Luja!, symbolizing irreverence towards the Other religion, use of apostrophes “sh’neezle”, “a’most horizontal”, “’rithmetic”, and literal spellings of alphabets, as evident in "Ell See See" for L.C.C. Desani even goes to the extent of indubitably mocking the pronunciation and diction of the Standard English speakers, as evident in the following instance : “[...] Lance the abscess! Lance the abscess! [...] They call nickel, ‘Niccolum’! and a lemon-piece, ‘Limonum’! Give me air! Give me Greek! ‘Yanooareeos’, ‘Fevrooareeos’, ‘Eeooneeos’, ‘Avghoostos’! Damme, it’s January, February, June, August! Ha, ha, ha!”. Thus, Hatterr, and through him Desani not only is a mere violator but an utter disintegrator of most of the standard ‘Rules for Writing Fiction’. Desani’s work is more of a sort of linguistic burlesque where Indian English unflinchingly jostles against all the known codes and conventions of grammar and diction. Salman Rushdie, in Mirrorwork, mentions:
Hatterr’s dazzling, puzzling, leaping prose is the first genuine effort to go beyond the Englishness of the English language... This is the ‘babu English’, the semi-literate, half-learned, English of the bazaars, transmuted by erudition, highbrow monk eying around, and the impish magic of Desani’s unique phrasing and rhythm into an entirely new kind of literary voice.
Desani’s most revolutionary practice becomes perceptible in his irreverent handling of great authors of the European canon, especially Shakespeare.
Christopher Hitchens, Why Orwell Matters, Basic Books, New York, 2002, "... An earlier generation of British readers had already feasted on Nirad Chaudhuri, R.K. Narayan and (imperishable for some of us) G.V. Desani."
Ketaki Goswami, author, Mulk Raj Anand: Early Novels, PHI Learning Private Ltd., New Delhi, 2009, "The discourse on language used by [Mulk Raj] Anand explores the daring practice of Indian English authors to tune English to the strings of the major dialects of India. ... The practice, we all know, reached its peak in G.V. Desani and continued its journey along writers such as [Salman] Rushdie and other postmodern, postcolonial writers."
Prof. Mukesh Williams, academic paper, "Technique and Configuration of the Indian Novel in English: Desani's All About H. Hatterr," Soka University Repository, Tokyo, 2009.
The linguistic mosaic of The Hatterr provides a true organon of incommensurable universes and their philosophical paradigms that may not come together but can coexist. Desani captures too much and critiques the Anglo-American and Indian worldviews finally providing an inexplicable theory of contrasts, a kind of acceptance of the world on its own terms. ... [Desani's] dexterity to lampoon national and transnational cultures in a Rabelaisian and Dickensian fashion and yet be able to experiment with the English language in a Joycean manner makes him a writer par excellence. For decades The Hatterr remained a minor classic in absentia, giving a subversive twist to Indian-British relations and releasing the quintessential flavor of the diasporic experience through a mock-heroic style.
Anon., GV Desani biographical note, themodernnovel.com, Feb. 18, 2015, "Though [Desani], to all intents and purposes, only wrote one book (he) can lay claim to being the founder of modern Anglo-Indian literature."
Anushka Jasraj, in a conversational interview in scroll.in with Ruksana Abdul-Majid (née Ruksana Majid) reported that Ms. Majid, a PhD., was working on a two-volume edition of Desani's manuscript journal to be called The Indian Journal. The article also reported Ms. Majid is writing a book-length study of Desani's life. (Desani's 4,000 page journal was donated to the University of Texas Ransom Center in 2007.) In a 2017 entry in the University of Texas at Austin Ransom Center Magazine (Bringing an Elusive Keystone of Anglophone Indian Writing into the Light) Abdul-Majid is quoted saying, "When I first embarked on my doctoral studies I had certainly thought I was going to write a much broader study about early diasporic Anglophone Indian writers, but Desani emerged very quickly as not just an intriguing character, but one woefully understudied." Abdul-Majid, an independent scholar, is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Research Fellowship Endowment. The research project is formally entitled, "A Critical Edition of G.V. Desani's The Indian Journal (1951-1958)."
Ruksana Abdul-Majid, Blackwell Reference Online, "All About H. Hatterr ... an abiding cult classic with a singular publication history, the novel was revised and reprinted in several editions appearing across a span of almost 60 years."
ZZ Packer, The Boston Globe (boston.com), Feb. 14, 2015. In an interview the novelist commented, "I once assigned this book (All About H. Hatterr by G. V. Desani) because I wanted to read it. It was very unconventional. Even though I’m not so pro-plotline, when there is no narrative thread I can get impatient. This had no narrative thread yet it was very fun and lively. But when people don’t care for it, I get it."
Vinod Ekbote, blog, vinodekbote.blogspot.com, The Sunday Haul, Oct. 31, 2014. "If finding a third copy of a rare title (All About H. Hatterr, 1972) isn’t enough proof that I am lucky when it comes to books then I don’t know what else would convince me about it. On the other hand it would also be a sign that I should finally start reading the book which is something I am putting off for some reason or the other."
The New Sunday Express (author not cited), Tribute to a Pioneer (Dec. 10, 2000). "One classic novel, one poem, some short stories - that is Desani's oeuvre if the journalism and a few academic papers are discounted. And yet the importance of the writer lay not in the quantity of his works, but in the manner in which he pioneered English writing in India. (Salman) Rushdie captured it best when he said that he took the language, a colonial bequest, and turned it against itself. In his words, "The instrument of subservience became a weapon of liberation. (Hatterr) was the first great stroke of the decolonizing pen."
S. Subramanian, Oxford University Press blog (blog.oup.com), Speaking of India, Dec., 2013, on the topic of parody in Indian literature comments, "Interest in post-Independence India – possibly with a long time-lag – was triggered by an early masterly work of humorous fiction, Desani's classic Hatterr, which was subsequently to be matched, if at all, only by Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.... Desani had the advantage that Hatterr was a novel, apart from the fact that he was a great writer. Other literary gestures might prove much harder to classify, other than as gestures, pure and simple. As Desani observed, one problem with gestures is that they don’t necessarily have a great demand curve facing them — unless, of course, ‘India-watchers’, academic scholars, politically motivated readers, and people with a taste for parody should band together to falsify the proposition."
E. Dawson Varughese, Reading New India, Chap. 1, Bloomsbury Academic 2013, writes "Hatterr (1948), was seminal in recognizing a new type of Indian writing in English and this was mainly due to Desani's use of language.... Parallels might be drawn, in terms of language, genre and voice, with Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981), which was published 30 years after Desani's novel, demonstrating that Desani's work was groundbreaking at the time."
Anil Menon (anilmenon.com), Love in a Hot Climate, Tel: Stories, Jay Lake (eds). Wheatland Press, 2005 and dedicated to Desani. In a note Mr. Menon wrote, "As regards Purushottam: there is a certain character type peculiar to post-colonial nations. He (and it is a ‘he’) haunts government offices, he is forever on the verge of success, he is congenitally optimistic, his entire life is a circus of circumstances, and he can often be spotted holding forth at tea stalls. The Indian novelist, G. V. Desani, reified (sic) this character in his magnum opus ... Desani aficionados will find Purushottam’s liberties with the English language rather familiar."
Chandra Steele, 5 Things You Should Know About ... Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, itproportal.com (Feb., 2014), "No. 5: He shares Salman Rushdie's literary tastes. Nadella likes the book All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani."
Guangming Online (gmw.cn) published The Telegraph's list of "10 Best Asian Novels for People". Hatterr was listed sixth.
Budhaditya Bhattacharya, I Don't believe Poets Necessarily Even Have To Write Books, The Hindu, Jan. 27, 2013, writes, "I had been reading G.V. Desani’s classic novel All About H. Hatterr and — I didn’t even notice this at first — it began to exert a powerful influence on my language. Then, I had also been trying to 'upgrade' my Tamil abilities and experimenting with getting the feel and sound and rhythm of Tamil into English. So there formed this, I think, surprisingly apt and productive solid bond among the repeating words of the sestina, Desani’s “rigmarole English” and my own, shall we call it, “alienated English”. And this new voice, this different way of using language, somehow just switched itself on every time I sat down to work with the sestina-influenced method I’d developed."
Rhys Hughes, in rhysaurus.blogspot.com under the topic "Reassurance", writes "G.V. Desani, (whose writing) reassured me, and continues to reassure me, that if nearly every sentence ends with an exclamation mark, harmony among endless movement can be established! ... Desani is not only a violator but an utter disintegrator of most of the standard 'Rules for Writing Fiction'."
Paddy, writing in Manduka's blogspot article "Mad Hatterr ... A Tribute to Mr. G.V. Desani": His titles alone convey his non-linear nature of Indian cultures. Consider...
"Mainly concerning Kama and her Immortal Lord"
"The Second Mrs. Was Wed in a Nightmare,"
"Gypsy Jim Brazil to Kumari Kinshino,"
"Country Life, Country Folk, Cobras, Thok,"
"...Since Nation Must Export, Smithers,"
"The Lama Arupa."
Anna Tambour, medlarcomfits.blogspot.com, "Great Book, Damme: All About H. Hatterr", (Nov., 2007) "The physique of Desani's voice is so magnificent that what he does with it is spoken of less that it should be. But he's got no equal, and I include that old flasher, Joyce."
Anonymous photo composition: A Cup of Chai and two Bourbon Biscuits and All About H. Hatterr.
Andrew Goldstone, "Hatterr Abroad: G.V. Desani on the Stage of World Literature," Contemporary Literature, Nov., 2014. The entire essay is available through Project Muse.
Desani’s novel repeatedly stages versions of global cultural ambition and transnational synthesis only to satirically upend them by showing how the literary Hatterrs (and All About H. Hatterrs) of the world are subject to the power of those who mediate and receive them.... Desani’s satire proves to be a canny, though partial, anticipation of his novel’s own fate as it has traveled the circuits of reception in the English-speaking world on three continents. The work of mediators and the presuppositions of readers have shaped the reception of Hatterr nearly as much as Hatterr’s own journey is shaped by the whims of others. Indeed, it is the book’s complex reception that makes it an exemplary document of 20th-century world literature.
Andrew Goldstone, "Hatterr Abroad in Contemporary Literature," blog, Nov., 2014. Commentary and addenda to Goldstone's "Hatterr Abroad: G.V. Desani on the Scene of World Literature" essay includes some interesting trivia related to the only publisher who would consider publishing Desani's novel.
I was also dying for an excuse to insert my fragmentary discoveries about Desani’s first publisher in the essay, but never found one. All About Mr. Hatterr: A Gesture was published by Francis Aldor in London in 1948. Ferenc (Francis) Aldor was Arthur Koestler’s cousin; he seems to have published mostly genteel pornography. Koestler made some money writing, or rather confecting, sexological texts for his cousin, who sold them for prurient interest. I do not know just how Desani got published by Aldor, though I suspect there’s more to the story than Desani’s later claim (which I talk a little about in the essay) that he was the only publisher who “had any paper.” This is only the beginning of Desani’s entirely Hatterresque publication history,
Andrew Goldstone, Export Duties, Arcade Literary Journal (digital), Stanford University, blog entry, 2011. Mr. Goldstone reprises the Desani short story "Since a Nation Must Export, Smithers!":
A dark fable of global circulation...
All around me were stacks of cardboard boxes, millions of them, piled one upon another, and I asked a lady official, who was stamping them, what might be inside them, and she replied, “Mahātmās.” The boxes were intended for export, she said, to help overseas trade. “Some of us must die,” she added, “so that others might live.”
(It is in ...Smithers) that Desani develops his most chilling version of the circulation theme.... I certainly don’t want to force an analogy between Desani’s narrator and Desani, but I am fascinated by the attempt to overcome the dire humiliations of embodying an exported idea with diabolical laughter. And I like very much the notion that even a much-beset, symbolically dominated intellectual should enjoy the Monty Pythonesque triumph of living on, in his writings, as a member of the “choir invisible.” The satirical, disturbing vision of the relations of power in the global perambulations of Indian culture has been as it were smuggled in the box along with the diminutive, easily consumed mahātmās.
Also, Dr. Goldstone's "Autonomy without Ethics: Strangers in the Literary Metropolis" is apparently quoted in the symposium The Ethics of Literary Autonomy, Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Here is the entry:
Literary autonomy has many forms, but the form that undergirds 20-century literary cosmopolitanism has a special ethical appeal. The modernists of Paris and London promoted the idea that writers rise above their zones of origin to pursue universal aesthetic aims. This ideal has an obvious connection to ethical ideals of global fairness and mutual recognition. Yet this connection is, I argue, deceptive; it confuses the logic of the international literary field with that of politics. What the literary centers of Paris and London demand of aspirants to cosmopolitan renown is, rather, an ascetic, individualist devotion to style. They leave little room for ethical and political solidarity – while, paradoxically, they confront writers with the thoroughly communal imperative of cultivating their social, linguistic, and cultural capital through public and private performances.
I advance these claims through interpretations of two perceptive observers of the modernist literary metropolis: the American expatriate Djuna Barnes and the Indian expatriate G.V. Desani. In their madcap late-modernist fictions, these writers probe the social logic of literary cosmopolitanism in Paris and London. Barnes and Desani, seeking recognition as innovators in an international English-language field, demonstrate the distance separating the styles of literary autonomy from cosmopolitan ethics.
Eric D. Smith, "Ambiguity at its Best!: Historicizing G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr," ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 40, No. 2-3 (2009), a 20+page essay places the novel in the historical context of India's independence and compares Desani's style and socio-political perspective and that of his more famous contemporary James Joyce.
Desani seeks to expose the hidden mechanisms of power (imperial and nationalist) operating within such cultural constructions as the “spiritual East.” In this sense, Desani is more Joycean than Joyce himself, appropriating the latter’s iconoclastic stance while critically revealing its crucial blind spot.
What Desani recognizes in Joyce’s own re-authoring of Rabelais, Homer, Dante, and others to suit a modernizing social context is his necessary critical engagement with colonialism, expanding capitalism, and anti-colonial nationalism....
Emphasizing this point of similarity with Joyce, Desani responds to the call issued by Ulysses not through some fanciful stylistic caricature or mere adaptation but through a thorough confrontation with some of the exemplar novel’s oversights.
It is both through re-writing Joyce and writing beyond him that Desani articulates a gestural critique of Indian nationalism’s practice of cultural compartmentalization. This gestural mediation (via parody) between the worlds of the abstract and the material, which Burns identifies in Joyce, has particularly heightened relevance in All About H. Hatterr, where the material and spiritual spheres constructed by Indian nationalist discourse clash and expose one another’s constructedness in highly illuminating and comic ways. "Ambiguity at Its Best!..." is available through iTunes ($5.99 as of 2013).
Joshua Cohen, The Daily Beast, "The Heirs of Joyce's Ulysses," (June 15, 2010), "(Hatterr is) ... A mannered crazed contortion of various idioms of South-Asian-English...."
Ian McMillan, dramatization, "Who Is H. Hatterr?", commissioned by Tara Arts (tara-arts.com), performance March 6, 2012, Tara Theatre, London, referenced in "Gruff Guide to Lost and Forgotten Writers."
Aishwarya, in Kaleidoglide (bluelullaby.blogspot.com), All About H. Hatterr, "This is taking ownership of the English language, and it's pure brilliance," May, 2010, with reader comments.
Also, Aishwarya in Practically Marzipan (practicallymarzipan.com), D.U. (Delhi University) and Hatterr, Jan. 2011.
We are still angsting (sic) over the idea that English is a foreign language in this country – there are plenty of issues around our English usage to angst about (like the amount of power those of us who can speak it hold) but this, whether or not we are allowed to use it as if it belonged to us, should not be one of them. Desani owns English. He’s not afraid to dogear it or roll over onto it or do whatever he needs to to get the effect he wants. And the results are bizarre and musical and hilarious, but they also achieve a cadence that feels appropriately Indian even to someone like me who has major issues with that descriptor.
Desani’s approach to language is so far away from the way English is taught and experienced in Indian schools that it isn’t even, as with Joyce and the Great Tradition, the antithesis to it. The two bear no relation to one another; they exist in different planes entirely. And so I’d like to see what would happen if Delhi University undergraduates were to be exposed to All About H. Hatterr. In third year, perhaps – by then there’d be a certain amount of context to help them to make sense of him. Yet if an unsuspecting class of first years were to come across H. Hatterr it might be exactly what they needed for the next few years of college.
Uppinder Mehan, in a chapter in Asian American Playwrights: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook (Miles Xian Liu, editor), 2002: "Although Desani wrote only one novel, only one play, and a handful of short stories, he is assured a prominence matching that of his more prolific contemporaries such as Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan, and Raja Rao and his most direct heir, Salman Rushdie, in postcolonial Indian writing."
Prof. Chetan J. Marakana, in the International Indexed & Referred Research Journal, Symbolic and Allegorical Elements in G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr, "G.V. Desani's ... Hatterr ... is more confusing than any other in Indian English Literature," May, 2012.
Comment in Woven Minutia (wovenminutia.blogspot.com) entitled G.V. Desani Sample, author anon., August, 2010. See also "Wagman's" post of August, 2010 for an update on Hatterr's reference to a bill about women passed in the 1770s by the British Parliament.
Book Rarities — Weird, Cool, & Rare Books (bookrarities.com), All About H. Hatterr, January, 2013. Paragraph description with a good photo of the 1970 Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition cover.
Three reviewers, WorldCat.org: "Desani has been rightfully hailed as the grandfather of the "global novel" -- and thank heavens to all subsequent literature."
Deepak Singh, "All About H. Hatterr: G.V. Desani", Literism blog (March 2011): "The protagonist (Hatterr) is a superb comic creation."
hari10, Indian English Novel Writers, in Ekikrat.in: "The first Indian novelist to make significant impact on the English Literary World was G.V.Desani."
New York Review of Books (NYRB), All About H. Hatterr, date and editor unknown. Quotes from reviews and a brief biographical note.
Review, Powell's Books, All About H. Hatterr: "Wildly funny and wonderfully bizarre, All About H. Hatterr is one of the most perfectly eccentric and strangely absorbing works modern English has produced."
About 30 contemporary reader comments on All About H. Hatterr on goodreads.com. Overall **** rating. Cody writes, "A layered and complex text that launches a scathing critique aimed at both colonial India and the British Empire via picaresque, pseudo-18th century philosophical treatises, mimicry, doomed spiritual journeys, and a magnificent hybrid language that often matches the heights of Joyce’s wordsmithery (and to which Salman Rushdie is admittedly indebted)." On the other hand Katherine writes, "I don't get this book."
Ram Sharma, "A History of Indian English Drama," Sunoasis Writers Network blog, 2010: "G.V.Desani’s Hali (1950), an entirely different kind of play, received high praise for its originality, symbolism and rich imagery. Regarding the message of the play Hali , M.K.Naik remarks, 'Hali finds peace in the thought that man must transcend human love, go beyond life and death and even leaving behind his limited idea of godhead, develops in himself a god-like love and detachment.' "
Prabha Parmar, "Formative Influences on Sir Salman Rushdie," Language in India, Vol. 10: "Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981) is well reflected in the works of Desani (All About H. Hatterr, 1948)."
G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr and the Two Posts were among the abstracts of papers presented at the 1990 Victoria meeting of the Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (Toronto).
The post-colonial self is often a de-centred self, both inextricably tied to the historical and geographical while yearning to be free of the constructions of the imperial power and wary of the replacements. The post-modern self is usually seen as a 'modern' creation; this fragmentary being that searches for unity. This interactionist self that at once creates many selves and many worlds, but rejects the totalizing claims of each. This is H. Hatterr. I am interested in seeing how Desani's All About H. Hatterr can aid in exploring the concept of postmodernism and postcolonialism as contesting signifiers for the same signified.
So Desani's gesture, as the novel was first subtitled, becomes a case study. His Hindustaniwallah has been quite burdened but never has he been called both a post-modern and a post-colonial, being a postwallah. The argument runs like this: H. Hatterr is a post-colonial character, he is also a post-modern character; therefore, the two posts must have a fair amount of common ground. I propose to show the grounds for calling the character and the work by the two post epithets.
The greatest resistance many post-colonialist critics have to post-modernism is its anti-social and anti-political stance, a narcissistic obsession with self-reflexivity and inter-textuality. Much of the distrust and dissatisfaction is the result of the confusion of an analysis of style with an analysis of principle underlying style. A thorough analysis of principle may show literary post-modernism and literary post-colonialism to be closely related. Post-modernisrn may be less a condition of late capitalism and more a sign of late imperialism.
M.K. Naik, "The Method in the Madness: A Thematic Analysis of All About H. Hatterr," in his edited Perspective on Indian Fiction in English: "Dr. Johnson's description of Paradise Lost as 'one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again' is well-known. All About H. Hatterr — an acknowledged masterpiece — has suffered an even worse fate. It is a novel which (at least in India) everyone admires, only some seem to read and very few have tried to analyze fully."
Adil Jussawalla, "The New Poetry", in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, March, 1970: "No Indian poet writing in English has equaled the kind of verbal dexterity we find in Raja Rao's Kanthapura or G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr."
Julian Rios, Books of the Year 2006 Symposium, in Ready Steady Book: "My books of the year are two novels written in a very creative language, two old favorites I have revisited recently: All About H. Hatterr (1948) by the Indian G.V. Desani and Grande Sertâo: Veredas (1956) by the Brazilian Joâo Guimarâes Rosa. ... Desani's novel appeared originally in postwar London and was instantly acclaimed as a comic masterpiece. I first read it in 1972 or 1973, in the Penguin Modern Classic edition introduced by Anthony Burgess. Desani's only novel has been in and out of print periodically. It seems it's unavailable again. What a shame! All About H. Hatterr is a fiction of many facets and facetiae. A real diamond in the crowd of carbon copies... "
Hatterr is listed in at least one of the lists of the "Thousand Books You Must Read Before You Die."
Professor C. Reinfandt's course "Indian Literature in English: An Introduction," at University of Tubingen, Germany, describes All About H. Hatterr under the heading "The Opening Move."
Alastair Niven, Every Word Doth Almost Tell His Name in Times Higher Education, U.K.: "In G. V. Desani's All about H. Hatterr, a foundation stone of modern Indian writing in English, Mr. Banerrji has a Shakespearean quotation to suit every occasion. His delightful confusions somehow say everything about the presence of 'the Bard', as he always calls him, in the literary and academic life of Commonwealth countries. 'The Bard has said, "Who steals my purse, steals trash! Nevertheless, Mr H. Hatterr, ahead of us is Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble! I am not a sob-sister, but, excuse me, the situation reminds me of Hamlet. To be! But firstly, let us be calm, honest Iago." ' " (March, 2006)
Githa Hariharan in "A Conversation with Githa Hariharan from Another Subcontinent (South Asian Society and Culture)": "Desani's All About H. Hatterr and Raja Rao's Kanthapura were both jolts in terms of what could be done with English."
Also Githa Hariharan, "All About H", The Indian Express (March 29, 2009):
... When I first read Hatterr, I immediately knew it was an important book. But a classic? I mean, is it allowed? Can a classic be so funny, make a fine art of standing Classical Language on it venerable English head? Can a classic be written by a "fifty-fifty", starring a hybrid hero, cooking up a dish of khichdi, the eclectic nourishing, do-it-yourself subcontinental stew? The answer to all these questions turns out to be 'Yes.' And as a result, Desani's novel managed to get the visa required for writers with strange names to travel in the English-speaking world....
Keith Botsford, writing in his blog The Botsford Guide to Culture: "G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr I consider the great comic novel of the XXth century."
Satya Nadella, Twitter entry: All About H. Hatterr... quite a read! (April 2009)
Naseem Khan, in All About Desani... for the Sunday Independent, U.K., describes his 1993 visit to the converted artist's studio which had been Desani's home for nearly 20 years. [Desani was then 84 and was to suffer a debilitating stroke a few months later. It was one of the few interviews granted by Desani his later years and almost assuredly his last. –editor]
Imagine you are on a literary tour, taking in the homes of writers whose books have made an impact on English literature. You are just now in Austin, Texas, and your air-conditioned coach is drawing up on a quiet, wooded side road. Beside you, higgledy-piggledy steps waver up a bank to the secluded, ground floor apartment of Govindas Vishnoodas Desani. Desani? An impact on English literature? ...
Desani's home for the past 20 or so years fits the begetter of Hatterr. Like the book, it is an amalgam, a mish-mash and gloriously impure. It has the air of a warren. All on one level, taking up the whole of a ground floor, it gives no impression of true scale. For Desani has divided and sub-divided into a series of small interconnected cubbyholes, all crammed with ephemera, memorabilia, piles of magazines, devotional objects, books on everything from Chinese medicine to American law and knick-knacks, both curious and gimcrack. "I like to collect little things. They please me," Desani said. "That too is a kind of worship…."
Ironically, however, All About H Hatterr could well be even more in tune with literary modes now than it was in 1948. Its anarchic humor, creative games with language and the reeling road it consciously plots between East and West sets it in a tradition that connects with magic realism and prefigures Rushdie's creative search for a cultural synthesis." (August, 1993). [In his piece Khan related one of Desani's favorite stories, about being so cold in England that he had to stuff newspapers in his clothing. However, that experience occured on Desani's first trip to England, approximately 1926, rather than during World War II. –editor]
From Very Short List: "It's not often that you have the opportunity to pick up a book and within moments realize you're reading something entirely and interestingly unlike anything you've ever read before. But such is the case with (Desani's Hatterr), a thoroughly weird (in the best way) and hilarious novel."
'Fips', under the title "The Indian Finnegan's Wake": "Desani's novel therefore offers a staunch alternative to the English literary tradition that had progressed through Kipling (who indeed gets a mention) to Forster in the shadow of the Great War, no better illustrated by the eloquent portrayal of the absurdities of English society and culture in English from a foreign voice. The language of the oppressor then, can not only be appropriated but can be employed so eloquently and so satirically to the detriment of the former."
Nilanjana S Roy: The DIY Indian Fiction Top 25: Nilanjana relates Jerry Pinto's list of the top 25 Indian authors. She writes, "Some books belong to the category of works you should re-read every decade, to see what has aged faster, the books or yourself: Midnight's Children, (All About) H. Hatterr, The Shadow Lines." (Originally published in the Business Standard, March 8, 2005.)
Ms. Roy, in the on-line publication Rediff, invited G.V. Desani posthumously to a party at her home in a piece entitled, A Fictional Dinner Party (May, 2005).
Ms. Roy, for The Indian Express: "The Literary Death Threat": There's a wall-to-wall bookcase in my house that is given over to works of fiction by Indian writers. In that bookcase, I see a reflection of the publishing landscape over the last decade. Some of those books acquired classic status slowly, some were acclaimed at birth; some were pronounced dead-on-arrival; some, like G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr, are indestructible even if they spend long years in hibernation until a new generation clamors to be introduced to the book all over again (5/28/2005).
Ms. Roy, in Business Standard, "The Unprivate Lives of Authors" (September, 2012): "Manohar Malgonkar, G.V. Desani, Aubrey Menen — the List of neglected and now dead writers in India makes for sad reading."
Ms. Roy, in an essay for 50 Writers, 50 Books: The Best of Indian Fiction (edited by Pradeep Sebastian and Chandra Siddan, HapperCollins), "All About H. Hatterrji":
The real reason for anyone to read Hatterr has to do with a quality rarely cited in critical texts — never again will anyone write a book with so much exuberance.... Desani’s “novel” is really a breathless, joyful performance, a gesture stretched across 316 pages, and perhaps that’s why it remains unforgettable, despite its periodic descents into oblivion. Over the last few decades, Hatterr revivals have depended on the largess of Western critics and publishers rather than the growing maturity and changing tastes of the Indian reader. And since the West has its own set of classics, and India is reluctant to claim any story that is not a success story, Hatterr remains not so much lost as not yet quite found. Damme, that’s the Occidental-Orientale scene for you.
Srinivas Aravamudan, contributed to Princeton University Press Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language and considered the relationship between Desani, Rushdie, and James Joyce:
... The third chapter focuses on Theosophy and its critique, taking two very important novels, James Joyce's Ulysses and G.V. Desani's All about H. Hatterr, as the vehicle for this investigation. This chapter shows how modernism helps these writers derive an ethics of destabilizing and satirical laughter when confronted with the creative obscurantism of religious innovators such as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.
However, rather than document Joyce's 'influence' on Desani, or conversely, attack those who thereby produce assessments of Desani's diminished creativity, this chapter focuses on the transcultural dynamics of both Joyce's and Desani's attitudes toward Eastern religions. The use of Hinduism and Buddhism (especially through a Theosophical lens in Joyce's case) makes for other narratives of cultural filtration. Desani's relationship to Joyce is one of creative affiliation, as is Salman Rushdie's, and affiliations such as these -- which are voluntary and cross-cultural — can best be understood within the post-colonial frameworks of Guru English.
David A. James, writing for (or re-printed in) The Ester Republic, the National Rag of the People's Republic of Independent Ester (Ester, Alaska) reviewed Rushdie's and West's anthology (Mirrorwork) and Kiran Desai's Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard under the title "Tales from India and Tales from the Working Poor":
... Rushdie himself is represented by an excerpt from his masterpiece, Midnight's Children, the novel that put India on the literary map. In his introduction to the collection, Rushdie acknowledges his debt to an obscure author named G.V. Desani. This influence is immediately obvious when reading Desani's All About H. Hatterr ...
Rehan Ansari (Modest Productions) created an adaptation of All About H. Hatterr entitled "Damme, This Is the Oriental Scene for You!" (playbill) which ran in Feb., 2000 for several weeks in Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille. Reported in the on-line publication NOW's theater section. (Oddly, this is also the title of Rushdie's introductory piece in The New Yorker's June 23rd and 30th, 1997 special issue on Indian fiction.) (Previous adaptations of Hatterr were produced in London's Ridiculusmus Theatre in 1996 and 1997.)
Prasad Bidaye, (Dept. of English and Center for South Asian Studies) and Lipi Biswas Sen (Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese) sponsored a University of Toronto symposium entitled "Midnight's Grandparent's: First-Wave South Asian Literature in English, A Century Later." (March, 2005). Professor Bidaye's topic was "Humiliated Heroes in All About H.Hatterr and Midnight's Children."
Manju Jaidka, reviewing an I. Allan Sealy novel (Hero: A Fable) for The Sunday Tribute (India), speculated on authors who might have inspired the novelist:
Trotter-Nama: A Chronicle was Allan Sealy's first successful book. Dedicating it to "the other Anglo-Indians," his professed intention was to write a comic epic in prose of the minority community in India to which he belongs. For the background to this novel he draws upon his knowledge of Lucknow. A book that declares its debt to Laurence Sterne, it is often seen as inspired by G.V. Desani and Salman Rushdie, using their mock-epic style, combining history with fantasy, the real with the imaginary....
An English course at Berkeley taught by Priya Joshi was entitled "The Other Modernisms". The course focused on several writers including G.V. Desani and Salman Rushdie.
C.J.S. Wallia, writing for the IndiaStar Review of Books, considered The New Yorker's 1997 special fiction issue (Indian focus):
A redeeming feature in Rushdie's essay is his finally acknowledging the influence of G.V. Desani on his writing. In 1982, Feroza Jussawalla, in her book Family Quarrels, had observed: Salman Rushdie's recent novel Midnight's Children has been widely acclaimed for its experimental style, often considered sui generis — in a class of its own and generating itself. That it is ... another imitative work is overlooked. Uma Parameswaran notes that Rushdie sees himself more in the tradition of writers from the empire that struck back, rather than in the tradition of Anand, Narayan, or Rao. Among the Indian writers, is G.V. Desani who is Rushdie's avowed master for he "showed how English could be bent and kneaded until it spoke in an authentically Indian voice".
Feroza Jussawalla's and Uma Parameswaran's early assessments of the extent of Desani's influence on Rushdie were right on the mark. In this essay, Rushdie now grudgingly concedes that he "learned a trick or two from him."
Indoanglian Literature web site: The Oxford Companion to English Literature calls (Hatterr) an "eccentric and inventive novel", having inspired even Rushdie and I. Allan Sealy's Trotter-Nama.
Gita Mehta, author, as interviewed by C.J.S. Wallia for IndiaStar Review of Books:
C.J.W: On a different subject, in Snakes and Ladders you are full of praise for G.V. Desani's All About Mr. (sic) H. Hatterr. Desani, as you wrote in the book, drew high acclaim from the likes of T.S. Eliot, Edmund Wilson, and E.M. Forster, no less. You call him a "modern wise man." I, too, like his writing very much — deeply metaphysical and so witty. The only other writer I know who writes such ambitious metaphysical fiction is Raja Rao, you know, his Chessmaster and His Moves, but he's not witty like Desani. What's your opinion of Desani's more recent book, Hali and Collected Stories?
Gita Mehta: Recent book by Desani?!
C.J.W.: McPherson, a small New York publishing house sent me a review copy. Delightfully clever, metaphysical stories.
Gita Mehta: I'll get a copy when I return to New York.
Also, Ms. Mehta, writing of Desani in her book Snakes and Ladders: "It is a brilliant feat of intellect, and to achieve it he has invented an Indian English of such energy ..."
Katherine Powers, writer for The Boston Globe, contributing to Simplicius Simplicissimus and reviewing His Monkey Wife or Married to a Chimp: The novel (His Monkey Wife) is one of the great idiosyncratic comedies in English — a designation, incidentally, that is a literary category in my mind. To it belong other such noble curiosities as Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm, Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds, G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr, J.R. Ackerley's Hindoo Holiday, L. Rust Hill's How to Retire at Forty-one, and — well, we'll leave the full list for another day [DAMN!!! Ed.]. Suffice it to say that what distinguishes the books in this category is not only that each is so idiosyncratic as to be sui generis, but also that the fulcrum of their comedy is cultural piety and the Western literary tradition. (It may be, alas, that in this day of enlightenment, the works can be enjoyed only by readers of "a certain age.")
'Storyteller', writing for Chowk, "Our Mother": "... presently, Mohsin Hamid, Arundathi Roy, and others are one trick ponies only ... (now turn around and accuse me by saying, "so was Desani") ... which is true ... his other writings U.S. magazines and The Illustrated Weekly of India have been lost ... but ... Desani was a unique writer ... in that he was a trail blazer...."
John Buchman, entitled, "Salman Rushdie Complete Book Review": All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani is a wonderful book. Even more outrageous than Rushdie in his use of language, this reminded me of a cross between Rushdie-gone-insane and Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi! (it shares a great deal of the sublimely ridiculous, continuous farce of Ubu Roi.) Of course, this book greatly pre-dates Rushdie, and Rushdie acknowledges Desani's influence on him in his introduction to Mirrorwork. I include it in this list of Rushdie books simply because I believe that admirers of Rushdie's books will enjoy Desani as well. Sadly, this book is long out of print....
Amardeep Singh, writing for his web site, "Book Coolie, Hobson-Jobson, and Daljit Nagra": It's kind of odd that the Indian book blog world is so densely populated with "Babus," "Sepoys," and "Coolies"! I am seriously considering starting an anonymous blog with a similar title to keep up with the exploding Hobson-Jobson blog scene. Maybe "The Madd Hatterr"? (a reference to the late, great G.V. Desani)."
Prof. Singh in his 2005 essay Re-Introducing All About H. Hatterr: It's odd (on second reading), because I'm not finding Desani's book even remotely as obscure now. It's pretty smooth going, and really quite funny." ... "The mad English of All About H. Hatterr is a thoroughly self-conscious and finely controlled performance...." ... "It seems appropriate to read Hatterr as a species of modernist experimentation." ... "Not only is this book out of print, it's been widely overlooked by scholars of Anglo-Indian literature as well as 20th century literature more broadly." ... " .... my dream would be a new, fully annotated edition of the text."
Prof. Singh on his blog, In Praise of 'Balderdash' (And other words for 'nonsense') (2005): The words for nonsense have been in my head lately partly because I've been teaching All About H. Hatterr, and Desani seems to use them all -- often with reference to the speeches of various fake Holy Men who show up in the novel.
'Kanya', commenting on Prof. Singh's essay: I think you are right on the money about the archetypal value of All about H. Hatterr. Probably the earliest satire on Anglo-Indian life and "Qui hai" culture. Desani is so hard to classify precisely because no one after him (till Alan Sealy's The Trotter-nama) seems to have written a satire of this class of people. Anglo-Indians were routinely satirized by the British (Jos Sedley and the nabob phenomena), but I don't know of any Indians trying to write mock-epics about the sahibs.… The Eurasians were always low-life, abject or silenced. Kipling's Kim is, of course, masquerading as one.
Benjamin Slade (alias Beoram) writing for the site dooyoo, "All About Who?, or, S. Rushdie's Secret Guru":
All About H. Hatterr by the Indian author G.V. Desani is a novel whose popularity is a bit like the rain in some parts of India — either there's not a drop to be seen or there's a monsoon. When the book first appeared in 1948, it was greeted with a flood of critical acclaim and rare enthusiasm by many distinguished literary critics, including the poet T.S. Eliot. A few years later it sank into obscurity, dismissed by the previously enthusiastic West as "just a little savory from the colonies" — going out of print in 1951 — only to emerge in the Seventies as a "modern classic", with a laudatory introduction by English author Anthony Burgess (author of The Clockwork Orange and many other novels, as well as a scholar of James Joyce), who called it "a capacious hold-all of a book".
It then again vanished (and went out of print) for another decade, moldering in crates, until Salman Rushdie — after receiving the Booker Prize for Midnight's Children in 1981 — acknowledged Desani as his literary predecessor and brought All About H. Hatterr back into the spotlight. Sometime in the mid-Eighties it predictably submerged once again and is presently out of print (even in India).... So, if you've any interest in modern Indian literature, or enjoy the works of Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, Anthony Burgess, or Salman Rushdie, I highly recommend All About H. Hatterr. Like Ulysses, it's not an easy read (but by no means is it as difficult as Ulysses), but it's a highly-rewarding book which — though regrettably largely unknown — is revolutionary in English literature.
"Beoram": Actually read somewhere that Desani's first falling-off of popularity was in part due to Naipaul. Desani was the "oriental gem" in the West until the rather Anglophilic Naipaul won over its affections (also due in part, it is claimed, to his scathing non-fiction books on India [which I haven't read yet] — which made some people in the West feel 'vindicated' [of colonialism?]). I still like Naipaul a lot though too myself.
Tabish Khair, writing for The Hindu, "Across Divisions":
Following Desani, Rushdie often uses compound words in which a native calque is combined with an English word. Words like "dia-lamp", for example, in The Moor's Last Sigh. At first blush, such words appear to be the same as Indian English neologisms in actual use; neologisms like the "lathi-charge" that appears in most English language papers. But they are not. Actual Indian English compounds combine a native calque with an English word to signify a third referent (with specifically Indian characteristics). Rushdie's (and Desani's) compound words merely stage this effect. Very often, as in "dia-lamp" or "khansamah-cook", the native calque is rendered superfluous. (A 'dia' is an earthern lamp; a 'khansamah' is a cook.)
Namita Gokhale, writing for The Hindu, "A Thousand Years of the Novel":
India and the Indian subcontinent are witnessing a similar flowering of fictional realities. G.V. Desani's All about H. Hatterr was a cult novel which, more than 50 years ago, first articulated the dual consciousness and divided sensibility of the Anglo-Indian mind. Salman Rushdie has acknowledged his fictional debt to Desani's elusive yet prophetic style. Midnight's Children is the testimonial of an entire generation of post-independence voices, where Indians have appropriated the English language and made it their own. Just as Urdu evolved from an intermarriage of the Persian and Hindu tongues, so Hinglish is now a valid version of the Queen's English. (3/4/2001)
Rob Millman, writing for The Kathmandu Post Review of Books, "Through the Looking Glass of Indian Fiction" (11/29/1998):
Initially, neither Nehru's speech, Sahgal's With Pride and Prejudice or G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr conform to a style that rests easily with the reader. The first is crafted for history. The second bears witness to the death of Gandhi through the youthful eyes and emotions of a member of the ruling political dynasty. And the third is a kaleidoscope of language, imagery, events, people and places, which at first appears to mystify a little, and amuse at best....
The excerpt by Desani begins elliptically: "The name is H. Hatterr, and I am continuing. Biologically, I am fifty-fifty of the species." But go through the looking glass. Piece together the life and language of a dispossessed Anglo-Indian. Allow the writing to coalesce. What emerges is a character with a passionate desire to do more than just survive the epochal changes that have destroyed the ease and comfort of his pre-ordained way of life. Discover his anger, his humor, and his compassion, and you have begun to unravel the riches that lie ahead....
Itala Vivan, writing for the online Italian zine El Ghibli rivista online di letter atura della migrazione: l'impatto dell'ibridazione post-coloniale sulla britannicità della letteratura britannica. [Italian.]
Vinay Lal. Manas, review article: Good Nazis and Just Scholars: Much Ado About the British Empire:
Many writers around the world have embraced English as their very own tongue, but it is rightly noted that they have given English a new life. Judging from the list of recipients of the Booker Prize over the last two decades, the main shapers of the English novel are no longer English or even British; and as Porter recognizes, some writers, who have never received the Booker, and whose career indeed started before the Booker was even instituted, have done at least as much to enrich English. Porter is, however, clearly unaware of G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr, of which T.S. Eliot, upon its publication in 1948, was to say: "In all my experience, I have not met with anything quite like it." This is no insignificant matter, for 40 years before Salman Rushdie came along, Desani had already given shape to the post-modern novel.
Chelva Kanaganayam, "Writing in English: Counterrealism as an Alternative Literary History": "In order to arrive at a possible theoretical approach to counter-realistic Indo-Anglian writing, one needs to acknowledge that experimental works did in fact borrow liberally from Western models. Even a work such as G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr (1948), a work which was ahead of its time, by both Indian and Western standards, owed much to the picaresque mode which was used to create a work whose characteristics today would be seen as anticipating post-modern novels." (Published in the University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 69, Number 3, Summer, 2000.)
Also, Kanaganayakam published Counterrealism and Indo-Anglian Fiction, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2002. Chapter 3, H. Hatterr and Sauce Anglaise: G.V. Desani, includes the comment: "Desani's language, instead of creating the illusion that it is the 'natural' idiom of the characters, thrives on its artificiality."
Deccan Herald, "Food for Thought":
Balu Mohan: But then what happened to a writer like G.V. Desani, whose All About H. Hatterr is one of the better books that came out in Indian English?
Amitav Ghosh: G.V. Desani essentially silenced himself. After he wrote All About H. Hatterr he never wrote again. That was not anybody else's doing. He had a very popular response. Having said that we haven't seen the last of G.V. Desani as yet. His journals are now going to be published and when that happens I think it's going to be a very important event. (Aug. 17, 2003)
Assorted blogs and other discussion group comments:
Rhys, nightshadebooks.com: But in the manner of a grand hypocrite, there's a novel I'd like to recommend to you. If you haven't already read it, I urge you to seek it out. All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani. It has the most uplifting and infectious prose style I've ever come across. It's almost a sort of Indian ULYSSES — seven chapters in which the narrator encounters each of the seven sages of India with bizarre and hilarious consequences. It reads like subcontinental jazz, lots of inspired improvising within precise and strongly thematic parameters. It's an awesome book. Desani is as great a writer as Vian, Mutis, or Pavic.
Assorted Amazon Reviewers of various editions of All About H. Hatterr:
Sandeeparekh: 10 Stars. Easily the best Indian novel written. And I think Midnight's Children is outstanding. But Hatterr is way ahead of everything else in style. (July 18, 2003)
Sashint: STOP! Stop whatever you are doing, whatever you are reading and whatever you are watching and make time for this book. Once you read Hatterr your literary life will be easily divided into two parts: Pre-Hatterr and Post-Hatterr. (Sept. 23, 2002)
A reader from Bombay: Ooooohhh so cooool! Salman Rushdie, in his collection of essays "Imaginary Homelands", acknowledges a longstanding debt to G.V. Desani. He paraphrases Desani's H. Hatterr talking about the migration of the '50s and the '60s. "We are. We are here," he says, speaking for Indian writers in England. Rushdie's own prose owes much to Desani, and Saleem Sinai to Hatterr. Desani's prose is rollicking, hilarious, wildly creative and even boisterous, in this book that was written in wartime and published in postwar England, over a decade after R.K. Narayan's gentle little Swami and Friends. Allan Sealy and, of course, Salman Rushdie are probably the best-known inheritors of the Desani mantle, having learned many tricks of their trade from him. But Desani himself has been sadly underrated for all these years, and, with the book not readily available, one has to hunt for his book in the King's Circle and Churchgate used-book markets of Bombay. Never fear, I discovered my copy there, and so might you. And in doing so, you might, as I did, discover Desani too. (April, 2004)
Matt Herrick: ... and I am continuing. his is a book whose content and literary importance are nearly inseparable. "The first great stroke of the decolonizing pen," Salman Rushdie (merely one in the great line of authors that Desani made available to themselves and the world) rightly called it. The book's language is its most interesting characteristic: "Hinglish" it has come to be called, proper English Hinduized and thereby made its authors own. The plot itself, while intriguing and playful, does not carry the reader along or provide enough substance to make this book great; the wonderful twists and turns of language and plot that we've come to associate with Indian literature in English is seen here only in germ form. Still, to miss this is to miss a revolution. Its out of print, but hopefully that will change; check the libraries in the meantime, and start a petition for a reprinting or something. (July, 2000)
"Dr in the house": Five stars. "... a fascinating and unusual exploration of dislocation, loneliness and the search for the meaning of life from the perspective of one of literature's most unusual heroes. (September, 2003, U.K.)
'Depressaholic': Five stars. "Apart from providing the archetype for 50 years of Indian literature, it stands alone as a wonderful read. It is funny and profane , yet also wise and pithy. The language is some of the most lyrical I have read, and it flows easily off the page. H. Hatterr and Bannerji are among the great comic creations in world literature. This is a must for fans of Indian literature, but, much more than that, it is a wonderful, funny, sad book, easy to read but strangely profound, and deserves a much higher profile as a 20th Century classic." (August, 2005, U.K.)
Susanna Ghazvinizadeh in Ipercorsidigriselda: Un vero inglese dalla testa ai piedi, o quasi: L' "Altro ibrido" nell'Inghilterra di Hanif Kureishi. [Italian.]
Jamyang Norbu, World Tibet Network News, "Talking points for The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes": "Indeed since Salman Rushdie considered G.V. Desani's All About Hatterr to be the best English fiction written by an Indian, Norbu's Huree could be regarded by Rushdie as a close competitor ... unrivaled since Desani.... " (12/15/99)
Devangshu Datta, Outlook India, "Finding the Perfect Link (another review of The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes)": "Hurree Babu's narration mixes scholarship on diverse subjects with literary erudition, a rationalist Spencerian approach, Latin dog-ends and Hobsonian Anglo-Indian slang in a manner unrivaled since Desani." (12/1/99)
Vithal C. Nadkarni, Yoga in the Age of Manipulation, The Times of India:
The phenomenon of the con and his or her chela, however, is scarcely new. Ancient texts are full of warnings against false masters and fake messiahs and the late writer G.V. Desani provided a classic portrait for modern times in his delightful book, All About H. Hatterr.
Described as a revolution in the art of the novel, Desani's book chronicled the adventures of a charming clever-naif Anglo-Indian seeking wisdom from the seven sages of India: "I have learnt from the school of Life, all the lessons, the sweet, the bitter, and the middling messy," says the protagonist. "'I have been the personal disciple of the illustrious graybeards, the Sages of Calcutta, Rangoon (now resident in India), Madras, Bombay, and the right Honorable the Sage of Delhi, the wholly Worshipful of Mogalsarai-Varanasi, and his naked Holiness Number One, the Sage of All India himself."
What shines through this Siddhartha-like odyssey is the tyranny of the so-called masters. Even in our supposedly liberated age led by a market mentality, this is similar to the authority wielded by advertisers and marketers who reinforce the 'I, me, mine' spirit of the times. (12/20/2002)
Lolita / Vladimir Nabokov discussion: Chowk 'chowkpicksbook':
'Pankaj': Thanks for a very well written essay on Nabakov.... You might want to edit it and publish it on Chowk so that the other folks not visiting this section of Chowk may benefit from it :-). An in-depth knowledge of multiple languages entails the understanding of multiple cultures for the languages are but embedded inextricably into their parent cultures. This cultural fusion in a person could produce a distinctive style deviating from "orthodox literature"; and isn't it what we love and cherish. BTW, I am wondering if you have read All About H.Hatterr by G.V. Desani. This book, written in 1948, is now counted amongst the modern classics in English. This book was forgotten and rediscovered two decades later and at once exalted to the status of a classic. Desani, according to Rushdie, was his guru who taught him how to write vernacular in English. His English is 'gloriously impure' like that of Shakespeare. G.V. Desani, invented an entirely 'original' English language in which his Indian characters could communicate. It has nuggets of sophisticated Hindu philosophy thrown in apparently very humorous background of 'life incidents'.
'AlphaNull': Yes, I have read Desani's All about H. Hatterr a decade ago. I cannot for the life of me locate my own copy now :-(. I do remember in general terms a picaresque novel full of madcap adventures, written in an extraordinarily vigorous hybrid idiom. The time may be ripe for a reread.... In retrospect it is not at all surprising that the fusion of Russian, French, English cultures should reach its zenith in a Russian emigre writer rather than, say, an Englishman-Russian being regarded as the most 'provincial' of the languages for the time and English as the one with the most 'universal' pretensions. And similarly it is unsurprising that a Desani would far outstrip, say, a Kipling, from the other side of the divide, in vigor and originality of expression — if not, alas, in output.
Harpreet: I first heard of (Hatterr) while reading an article in The Times here in England some years ago. Then about two years back I bought a compilation of modern (i.e.: post-1947) Indian literature in English, edited by Salman Rushdie, in which there was an extract from the novel. I have to say that the prose is extraordinary, it reads to me like the first sustained and successful attempt to articulate the Indian voice, and the psychological schism of the modern Indian experience in the context of English fiction. You are dead right about him being a pre-cursor of Saleem Sinai. Rushdie says in the compilation that he is indebted to Desani for helping him find a voice. Some would say that the authorial and prose style of Rushdie is so greatly influenced by the book that he hasn't shaken it off. Others may simply suggest plagiarism, but I wouldn't be so cruel, we are all inspired by something. What is truly amazing is that the book is not in print in the UK! I can't believe that Rushdie and other prominent authors can't use their influence to bring out a new edition so that Desani can get due recognition. (Perhaps he is scared that it will diminish him by making people realize that his style is not that unique.)
Dennis Waite, "From the Unreal to the Real: Recommended Reading Fiction and Poetry": Michael Reidy, an Irish philosopher on the Advaitin E-group, recommends All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani. His comment is, "unclassifiable folly and sovereign remedy for head heaviness." The Amazon reviews imply that it could be a little hard-going. Part of one of the reviews notes: "Trying to summarize the story would be a gross unjustice to the book, which is superb in content but absolutely brilliant in form. The style, scathingly original, is at times slightly tough to grasp (reminds one of Ulysses and the good old Joyce). Not a very light read, but really enjoyable."
Karan Mahajan, A Review of All About H. Hatterr and subtitled: "Central Question: What's the best way to achieve the exact opposite of spiritual enlightenment?"
If there's a worldwide shortage of exclamation points today, you can probably blame it on the 1948 publication of G. V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr, a book so demented and brilliant that it not only detonates about a dozen "!"s per page, but actually justifies this extravagance. For sheer hilarity, All About cannot be beaten. It deserves to be reprinted a thousand times over. ... In fact, it nearly has been. It is a perpetually lost classic. ... It was this cheeky and hysterical style that Salman Rushdie admiringly amplified in his masterpiece Midnight's Children.
Ram was a prodigious child, who finished school when he was 13, and law school when he was 17. A consummate original, he admits to few influences.... But there are two people who touched him. The first is the elusive literary genius, G.V. Desani, who apparently taught Ram briefly when he was in Class 3 in New Era School in Shikarpur. 'I once read out a long speech he wrote, something about President Roosevelt and a cuckoo. Then he suddenly disappeared from our lives,' says Ram. ...'
Also, in a brief appraisal in uddhamsoto (uddhamsoto.com) Ms. Chaudhury was quoted as follows:
Though chronically skint, teaching at the School of Oriental & African Studies in London while living out of a dismal, one room basement flat in Chelsea (which had a loo on the distant end of a cold courtyard), Desani once came to his friend Khushwant Singh, who was the Press attaché in the Indian High Commission at the time, and asked him: "Can you recommend me for the Nobel Prize?" Khushwant was dumb struck: "But you’ve only written that one book!" "So?" countered Desani softly. "Eliot’s written very little also!" "Only Nobel winners can recommend others," Khushwant protested weakly (taken aback by Desani’s total lack of modesty.) "No, even the government can," insisted Desani steadfastly. Worn down by his persistence, and undone by his ingenuous self-belief, Khushwant meekly signed the forms. Nothing came of it, of course. The Nobel committee in Sweden checked things with Dr. Radhakrishnan, who was then the ambassador there, and also a nominee for the Nobel. He was not a bit amused and ticked Khushwant off roundly. Desani continued to live with his inconvenient loo across the courtyard until he decided to set off to study in the Orient.
Salman Rushdie, in an article entitled India and World Literature, in "Frontline: India's National Magazine," Vol. 14, no. 16 (Aug. 9-22, 1997). The essay was described as a reprint of his introduction to The Vintage Book of Indian Writing: 1947-1997, edited by Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West, Vintage (London, 1997):
The most significant writers of this first generation, R.K. Narayan and G.V. Desani, have had opposite careers. Narayan's books fill a good-sized shelf; Desani is the author of a single work of fiction, All About H. Hatterr, and that singleton volume is already 50 years old. Desani is almost unknown, while R.K. Narayan is, of course, a figure of world stature, for his creation of the imaginary town of Malgudi, so lovingly made that it has become more vividly real to us than most real places. (But Narayan's realism is leavened by touches of legend; the river Sarayu, on whose shores the town sits, is one of the great rivers of Hindu mythology. It is as if William Faulkner had set his Yoknapatawpha County on the banks of the Styx.)
Narayan shows us, over and over again, the quarrel between traditional, static India on the one hand, and modernity and progress, on the other; represented, in many of his stories and novels, by a confrontation between a 'wimp' and a 'bully' — "The Painter of Signs" and his aggressive beloved with her birth control campaign; "The Vendor of Sweets" and the emancipated American daughter-in-law with the absurd "novel writing machine"; the mild-mannered printer and the extrovert taxidermist in "The Man-Eater of Malgudi." In his gentle, lightly funny art, he goes to the heart of the Indian condition, and beyond it, into the human condition itself.
The writer I have placed alongside Narayan, G.V. Desani, has fallen so far from favor that the extraordinary All About H. Hatterr is presently out of print everywhere, even in India. Milan Kundera once said that all modern literature descends from either Richardson's Clarissa or Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and if Narayan is India's Richardson then Desani is his Shandean other. Hatterr's dazzling, puzzling, leaping prose is the first genuine effort to go beyond the Englishness of the English language. His central figure, "fifty-fifty of the species", the half-breed as unabashed anti-hero, leaps and capers behind many of the texts in this book.... Hard to imagine I. Allan Sealy’s more recent Eurasian comic-epic, The Trotternama – an enormous tome, swirling with digressions, interpolations, exclamations, resumptions, encomiums, and catastrophes – without Desani.... My own writing, too, learned a trick or two from him.
In his 1982 essay "Imaginary Homelands," Rushdie addressed the issue of the legitimacy of Indian ex-pat writers at home and abroad:
So if I am to speak for Indian writers in England I would say this, paraphrasing G. V. Desani's H. Hatterr: The migrations of the '50s and '60s happened. "We are. We are here." And we are not willing to be excluded from any part of our heritage; which heritage includes both a Bradford-born Indian kid's right to be treated as a full member of British society, and also the right of any member of this post-diaspora community to draw on its roots for its art, just as all the world's community of displaced writers has always done. (I'm thinking, for instance, of Grass's Danzig-become-Gdansk, of Joyce's abandoned Dublin, of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Maxine Hong Kingston and Milan Kundera and many others. It's a long list.)
The subject of Desani's writings also apparently came up in an undated interview with Rushdie, quoted by Neelam Srivastava (Languages of the nation in Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy):
The way in which the English language is used in that book (All About H. Hatterr) is very striking; it showed me that it was possible to break up the language and put it back together in a different way .... one thing it showed me was the importance of punctuating badly. In order to allow different kinds of speech rhythms or different kinds of linguistic rhythms to occur in the book, I found I had to punctuate it in a very peculiar way, to destroy the natural rhythms of the English language; I had to use dashes too much, keep exclaiming, putting in three dots, sometimes three dots followed by semi-colons followed by three dashes ... That sort of thing just seemed to help to dislocate the English and let other things into it.