A diary about an Englishman who revived a languishing literature festival in the future.
William McPherson left Britain for India, the land of stories, where he won name and fame. Of his years in the early 21st century India, no account was available because the natives could not write history. Now interesting material has come to light, thanks to India Diary found in the loft of an Edinburgh house. It was written by McPherson’s friend who lived in Kolkata and died in Edinburgh in 2045. The diary records how McPherson was seen in India through the post-colonial prism. This caused a culture clash, making McPherson more famous. It enlivened the Loyalpore Literature Festival and turned it into a showpiece Anglo-Indian encounter.
India Diary: The Loyalpore Episode
Kolkata, September 15, 2019: William McPherson’s friend continues in his India Diary.
At last Willy has joined me in India. Willy was disgusted with England — the little island infested with drugs, crime and poverty. Both of us are happy to be away from what Chatwin called a ‘barbarian country’.
Willy felt drawn to the exotic Golden Hind. India is endowed with a rich seam of stories waiting to be mined. There is a literary scramble for India. A fresh outbreak of lust for the East! My friend gets down to writing. His trilogy, City of Din, City of Sin and City of Jin gets a fantastic response. Consecrated by a British publisher, the books return to India to be reviewed extensively. The critics say never before was the soul of India captured so well.
December 18, 2019:
Willy feels he has arrived! He wants to contribute to his adopted land. He has neither wealth nor the Lord’s message to save the poor souls of India. He could impart knowledge. He decides to be a literary social entrepreneur. Spotting an opening in a languishing literature festival in Loyalpore in Registan, he draws up a plan to revive it. That can be done if the authors mix with film stars, make provocative statements and meditate on love and sex. Willy wants to launch an “inclusive literature” movement. He goes forward with the help of sponsors including a soap-shampoo conglomerate.
Loyalpore, January 22, 2020: Passions Inflamed
The Loyalpore Literature Festival opens with a bang. What a spectacle! Writers from every continent have descended. The newspapers carry brief reports on the literary sessions and pages of photos of the socialites gracing the festival. One report reveals that the delegates consumed 1200 cases of wine, whiskey, vodka and beer. In exchange, the Loyalpore public had large pegs of wisdom served to them.
An NRI writer drinking wine on the dais sparked some caustic comments but the “neglect” of Hindi writers caused an explosion! The newspapers are calling the Loyalpore Literature Festival an insult to Hindi literature. Those expecting controversies were rewarded as argumentative Indians hijacked most sessions, protesting against the triumphal march of the “Language of Dominance”. It is as if I am in a theatre watching The Politics of Language! The actors are mouthing sophisticated arguments! They say language is not just a semiotic system for transmission of information.
The media has joined the fray. A spirited debate highlights the links of language and literature with imperialism, nationalism, religion, ethnicity and identity. Diplomat-author P. Varma laments in flawless English the second-class status accorded to Hindi. The British managed to create two nations within the independent India. The miniscule English-speaking nation has left millions feeling linguistically inadequate, excluded and powerless.
Over the festival hovers the ghost of a Briton who had come to India in 1834 for just four years. His followers and critics refuse to get over him! His minute has been extended to centuries, someone said. “To create a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” That was Macaulay’s “sinister conspiracy”. Of course, I am enjoying it because what will such a festival be without spats over language and literature!
January 26, 2020: A Bomb Drops
Good God! An English magazine prints a shocking cover story: “Fair Without, Foul Within”. It raises the question: How can a foreigner become the arbiter of literary taste in independent India? And answers it: “Because of the slavery of the Indian mind!” The magazine has lit a fire. A movement starts in the blogosphere for “decolonising” the festival! An Asian magazine editor of England describes McPherson as “very white”. McPherson is called a firangi interloper.
January 30, 2020: The Tide Turns
The Diarist sees the tide suddenly turning in his friend’s favour.
The land of miracles! Anything is possible in India!
My friend was demonised till yesterday but now out of the blue, he is getting bouquets! A British expatriate PR consultant Lira Sylvia is rumoured to have achieved that feat. Thank you Lira Sylvia! May your hold over the Indian media continue? All is well that ends well!
Loyalpore, January 25, 2025
The Diarist goes on to record the progress of the ‘literary enterprise’.
I am here this time for the LLF-2025, branded as the Loyalpore Durbar; a play on the Dilli Durbar. More than a million people from all over the world have arrived for the literary Mahakumbh Mela. The State Government has declared a week-long holiday. As many as 11 colourful centrally-heated tents have been erected over an airfield lying disused since Loyalpore now boasts of a new international airport, thanks to the LLF traffic. Caparisoned elephants with giant posters publicising English novels are lined up at the entrance. The ceremonial procession with drummers and trumpeters is led by the pink-safa-wearing chairman of a British publishing group seated on a camel!
Attending the Loyalpore Durbar are 8,504 writers, stars, musicians, painters, booksellers, authors, publicists, fixers, mixers, smugglers, literary agents, media moguls, cultural czars, fact-checkers, travel brokers, polo players, winners of the Booker and one famous British hooker. Loyalpore has attracted them all — hotties from Hollywood, beauties from Bollywood, babes from Birmingham, bands from Brixton, MPs and IAS officers from New Delhi and IFS officers from foreign capitals.
The celebrities include the Queen of Vasant Vihar, the Princess of Golf Links, the Maharaja of Maharani Bag, the Mistress of Manhattan and the Maharani of Malabar. The main tent reflects the British and Rajput traditions of ornamentalism. The Royal Rajputs in resplendent shervanis and safas are surrounded by white women with golden hair. Kissing is the popular form of greeting! The tent is suffused with the aroma of perfumes. Conversations are punctuated with ecstatic noises about clothes and looks.
William McPherson is hailed for bettering the minds of Indians, raising them to the intellectual levels of their Western counterparts and protecting them from the impurities of their traditional literatures. He is applauded for giving a new identity to Loyalpore as the City of Books. The State Governor ceremonially presents Willy with the keys to the City of Palaces, a silver sword and a golden pen. The crowning of the British writer as The White Rajput is telecast. McPherson and the pomp and pageantry of the Loyalpore Durbar will be remembered for long in India.
January 30, 2075: The Diary Editor’s Note
The Literature Festival chapter of India Diary concludes with the prediction that McPherson would be remembered for long. But even the diarist could not imagine that Indians will build his temple. The Fursun Dev Temple with the idol of William McPherson draws a large crowd of devotees. The fair, tall and balding deity is dressed in a shawl. The other idol in the temple is of Goddess English, a white fairy holding a magic wand.
With their eclectic tradition, Indians converted some foreigners into Gods and Goddesses. A rural community in Rajasthan worships a British officer killed in their area during the 1857 revolt. They offer flowers and incense at the grave of Captain George Henry Monck Mason of the Bengal Native Infantry. The villagers of Auwa trust their forefathers who saw the British perform miracles such as running iron carts without bullocks. At the grave of the British Captain, they sing: “Oh, Britons, what great skills you had!” The locals believe that the Captain fulfils wishes. Faith does wonders!
McPherson too is credited with miraculous powers. He is remembered for transforming Loyalpore from a sleepy town of petty traders into the world’s largest literary mall. The British writer is venerated in a country that denied the divine status to even King George V whose statue was banished from New Delhi!
Half a century later, the people of Registan still sing folk songs about Fursun Dev. The temple idol is smiling since English won and Hindi lost. English succeeded as an instrument of British soft power while Christianity had failed. The Fursun Dev Temple enshrines a foreign tongue’s influence in independent India. Even the secularists approve of it since it undermined the movement for building a Ram Temple there!
(Condensed from a forthcoming volume on 3 Anglo-Indian Encounters)