I don’t do celebrity fan fare but when I learnt that master story teller Jeffrey Archer was coming to town, thought I’ll drop by for a while if possible. He was in Chennai last time also, but I got the information rather late. So yesterday 7PM I was at Landmark Nungambakkam and spent some minutes listening to Jeffrey Archer.
He arrived 10 minutes behind schedule and without wasting much time in any formalities launched his new books and began talking. Paths of Glory is his new English novel (hardback Rs 850, paperback Rs 230) which he launched in Chennai yesterday, besides unveiling Malayalam and Tamil translations of his work ("Not a penny more, not a penny less" in Malayalam and “Twist in the Tale” in Tamil) Twist in the tale is being translated to Kannada as well and will be inaugurated at Bengaluru in a couple of days.
Extract of Paths of Glory:
This book (15th from Jeff) is about a gentleman, George Mallory who wanted to climb mount Everest. But for various reasons he failed in his first two attempts. This hobby of his was taking away lots of his quality time and money, so his wife is not happy. He sets out to make one last attempt, telling his wife that I’m going to climb Mount Everest this time and I’ll place your photo on top of it and return. Once I come back I will spend all my time with you and won’t venture out again.
He sets out to climb Mount Everest, but was found dead on the way. No one knows if he died while climbing down or he failed to make it to the top and gave up on the way. They check his wallet and his wife’s photo was missing in it-which should mean he went up till the peak and place it there. The whole novel is about unraveling weather he did really make it to the peak or gave up enroute- said Jeff. (The significance is, if it could be proved that he indeed climbed Mount Everest, he would have been the first person to do so, ahead of Tensing and Edmund Hillery)
Watch below video if interested to hear it from his own words (poor quality video made from mobile camera)
About his next project:
There’s a gentleman who loves to backpack and travel all around, unplanned. He once arrives in a small town by bus and its about midnight by the time he reaches there. There were few more passengers along with him in the bus and after getting down he sets out looking for a hotel to stay.
Finally he finds a hotel, manned (womanned??) by a beautiful lady at the reception. She tells that all rooms are fully occupied and she has no room vacant to offer him. On being asked about other possible hotels/accommodations in town she says “No-there’s no other hotel in town. Your only chance is a lady who accommodates people-but her place is 5 miles from here, she’s no phone and is partially deaf-if you wish you can go there and take chance, but I don’t recommend ”
After much deliberations and discussions the receptionist offers our traveler an accommodation in her room. They go upstairs, spend the night together “and all things happened” if I’ve to quote the story teller himself.
Morning she asks the traveler: "Please take the fire exit to get out and come in from the main entrance again to collect your baggage left at the reception, so that no one notices that you were in my room". This guy does the same and as he re enters the hotel he finds a middle aged woman at the reception. "I came to collect my bags"-he explains.
Lady: Where did you stay?
Traveller: At the beach, as all rooms in the hotel were full (he lies)
Lady; Who said it is full- several rooms were vacant last night
Traveller: Err, but the girl at the reception said all rooms were full
Lady: Who was at the reception?
Traveller: That girl named ____
Lady: Oh she? She said all rooms were full while most of them were indeed empty? Then she offered you space at her room?
Lady: hmm… this is not the first time she’s done that… (End of story)
It was nice hearing to Jeffrey. He praised RK Narayan a lot and said he'd read Malgudi days once again after returning to England. He spoke well, inducing humor at right spot and entertained the audience. Seems he promised to stay back as long as required so as to autograph each and every book purchased. Wish I could stay back but I had to leave. I left the venue once he finished his talk and started taking questions. Making my way out of overcrowded landmark store was a challenge-like Chakravyooha…
Poor event management by landmark:
I felt it was a very bad idea to organize the function inside the landmarks store, making some space by pushing book shelves aside. Just about 20-30 people could sit comfortably on the chairs provided and about 10 times that number stood wherever they could find space. Since landmarks store is in basement of the building with only one entry+exit, had there been an emergency safe evacuation is near impossible with an inevitable stampede. I understand organizers wanted to promote the store, but for the size of crowd expected, the meet could have been kept in a larger space, say an auditorium or a hall. Hope they’ll mind these factors next time.
May 13 Updates: Had put same video twice-corrected. Had left a comment at Jeff's blog mentioning this blog post-that comment wasn't approved, probably classified as Spam... I've promptly removed the links given to his site and blog.