Jeffrey Archer has a steady fan following in Madurai all through the years, writes S. ABRAHAM MILLS
The recent tour of British author Jeffrey Archer across major cities in the country to promote his new book, A Prisoner of Birth, brought back memories of the crazy Archer days of the 80s in Madurai. One could tell the popularity of a lending library by the number of copies it had of Kane and Abel or its sequel, The Prodigal Daughter.
Archer’s was the first major stop upon entry into the adulthood for many book lovers after an innocent and innocuous grind of Enid Blyton-Nancy Drew-Hardy Boys through childhood and adolescent years. From there, one either takes the James Hadley Chase-Jeffrey Archer-Robert Ludlum highway and join the masses on a long and titillating ride or goes the less-travelled Fyoder Dostoevesky way and find themselves lost in One Hundred Years of Solitude offered by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among real wily others. There were quite a few gentlemen who were at home straddling the good and the bad, and even the ugly (anonymous books on the alley behind New Cinema) of the lending library world.
Be it the dumb S.S. Colony libraries or the exciting ones north of the Vaigai, one had to wait for weeks to read Archer’s First Among Equals when it hit the libraries, though it was a letdown for many who had been captivated by his more racy earlier novels.
Though at a later age one feels the futility of a tryst with the pulp fiction world, there was no escaping it due to peer pressure then. However, it did transport us couch potatoes into unheard of parts of the world — from dreary east Europe to throbbing American cities. Unlike his equally popular compatriot Ken Follett, whose tomes like Pillars of the Earth dealt with meticulous details of the subject, be it cathedral architecture or Afghanistan, Archer’s was easy on the palate. If it is not rags-to-riches, it will be the protagonist outwitting every other person he comes across to make a fortune in the end – a refined version of an MGR pot-boiler. Says A. K. Kuppuram, proprietor of Turning Point, a bookstore on Town Hall Road, that after reading a recent article about Archer in The Hindu many came to his Jonathan Lending Library in Anna Nagar.
“The demand from members is so much for A Prisoner of Birth that it has been reserved for three months at a stretch, even in these days of waning reading habit among Madurai residents.”
Mr. Kuppuram, who was with the Higginbothams in the 1980s, says Archer novels were a big hit, along with the likes of Frederick Forsyth (The Day of the Jackal), Ken Follett (Eye of the needle) and Mario Puzo (The Godfather) those days.
Reminiscing about the pre-TV era, Mr. Kuppuram, who has an eye not only on bestsellers but introduces must-read books in English and Tamil to Madurai readers all the time through his bookshop and lending library, says he could not forget those eventful years stocking and selling works of master storytellers.
Jeffrey Archer, whose personal and political life in England was as exciting with ups and downs as his numerous novels and short story collections, has been having a steady fan following in Madurai all through the years. Ramakrishnan of Karmugil, another good lending library in Goripalayam, says there are many takers for Archer’s A Prison Diary (sort of an autobiography), of late.
Interestingly, long before the author became a rage in the State, it was written in a popular column of a Tamil weekly that actress Revathy told the correspondent at a shooting spot that she could not wait to finish Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer. One always has this suspicion that it started the mass movement towards Archer in the Tamil hinterland.
The stranglehold Archer had on Indian readers could be borne by the fact that the plot for a Malayalam blockbuster (it was a major hit in Tamil Nadu as well) was lifted straight from his ‘Shall we tell the President?’ another fast-paced novel. In the film, CBI officer Mammootty, a Tamil, would be on the trail of an assassin, Captain Raju, who was brought by political adversaries to kill an unwary Sukumaran, the Chief Minister.