Satya had messaged: “Terry Pratchett is gone.”
It is difficult to explain by what margin Terry Pratchett is my favourite author. On good nights I dream of a world where the dominant religion is based on Terry Pratchett’s books. That feels so wrong — and right, that I hope TP would have found it funny.
By way of starting to explain how obsessed I have been with TP, this is something I had stubbed for a blog post a long time ago, but had made zero progress with.
This story begins with Satya, who once was the rahmaniac who once asked me if I knew what the word beatzophreniac meant.
When we were in college, ever so often, we would ritually take the train to Hyderabad on weekends, and spend hours trying to find, among the tons of old books being offered for sale on the pavement and at second-hand bookstores a few for which we could justify, to ourselves, spending a few tens of rupees on.
In the heat of the Hyderabad day, we would plant ourselves in front of the book seller, eye the books on offer, silently sample the books, silently sample the books, silently sample the books, hide our excitement if we spot a great prize, and eventually shortlist a pile of books to haggle for.
And I swear I remember the heat of the Hyderbad day when I first read Terry Pratchett. We were in front of a seller on the pavement, when Satya passed me a hardcover missing the dust jacket. He might have said something, but I went in unprimed, read to pass my unbiased judgement on the book I had been passed. I opened it to where I figured the story began and read the first page:
They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.
They say that the elephants, being such huge beasts, have bones of rock and iron, and nerves of gold for better conductivity over long distances.*
They say that the fifth elephant came screaming and trumpeting through the atmosphere of the young world all those years ago and landed hard enough to split continents and raise mountains.
No one actually saw it land, which raised the interesting philosophical question: when millions of tons of angry elephant come spinning through the sky, and there is no one to hear it, does it ‐ philosophically speaking ‐ make a noise?
And if there was no one to see it hit, did it actually hit?
In other words, wasn’t it just a story for children, to explain away some interesting natural occurrences?
As for the dwarfs, whose legend it is, and who mine a lot deeper than other people, they say that there is a grain of truth in it.
*Not rock and iron in their dead form, as they are now, but living rock and iron. The dwarfs have quite an inventive mythology about minerals.
“Buy it, definitely buy it!”
Though Satya would probably have bought it anyway.
There are a lot of things that I want to talk about. I want to talk about the first page I read, about Nation, about women, about Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and DNA, about my crushing addiction to any fantasy work that even promises to be funny, about god(s)3, about the willingness to discuss sewers and nightsoil and snot, about technology, about the characters mentioned in only a couple of passages that I thought deserved a book, about everything.
But, the thing I can talk about now is how for years since, this, the first encounter, has been the proof of magic for me. That you can find pearls on the pavement. That a chance encounter could trap you in forever.
This is, of course, a true and accurate account of things that happened. However, as it happens, a few weeks ago, Satya and I happened to be in the same city after a few years. And, so we met. At that time, I was under some amount of strain, and essentially keeping myself sane by read a TP book every night.
So, I mentioned the first encounter story to him. Except that he was certain that it had happened at the famous Best Book Stall at Lakdi ka Pool. He remembers Ahmed sir, the human recommender algorithm, telling him, “There is this author, Terry Pratchett, you should try reading him.”
- As unwilling then, as I am now, to admit ignorance, I said that I had heard the word used somewhere, but I didn’t quite remember the exact meaning at the moment.
- I used to think that the title, the author’s name, the introduction, the preface, the acknowledgement, the table of content, the dramatis personæ, everything other than the story were a waste of good story carrying pages. You know how booksellers used to claim refund for unsold (and about to be destroyed) copies by send back the cover page of paperbacks to the publisher, and how in truly Indian style, new but cover pageless paperbacks were available at a discount from the pavement book sellers: I thought those were brilliant! All the story, and less of the unimportant bits. Plus, it was like a mystery gift hamper.
- Lack there of, and the games these non-existent entities play.