Thursday, April 21, 2005

Jaspar Utley

“My wife, Megan, who passed away early this year, was very happy when we lived in India. It felt right for me to come here, to commemorate her life.” says Jaspar Utley, the former Director, British Council, South India, whose visit has evolved into a sort of therapy, as he has resumed his writing.

A book launch was also bolted on to the original purpose as he was anyway in India, and the last week saw the launch of his book for children, Tall Tales at the British Council.

Tall Tales was not originally intended for children. I wrote it, and my publisher felt it was best suited for children. It’s about the humorous side of life, and a lot of the content comes from my conversations with real people while in Chennai.” Says Jaspar.

Having lived in India for 6 years until 2001 as part of his assignment with the British Council, Jaspar has peppered his book with varied aspects of life in India. He says about the story, “It’s about a South Indian gentleman narrating tales to his great grandson. These tales, based on incidents in his life, seem rather unbelievable, if it weren’t for his manner of telling them so convincingly. He is said to have captured a tiger single-handedly, come face to face with a ghost in Fort St. George and also beaten the Viceroy’s team in an impromptu cricket match!”
Speaking of the perspective he has taken, he says. “I haven’t written the book from the outside, looking into Indian life. It’s quite the reverse! A case in point - none of the reviewers of this book, set in India, have mentioned that it was written by a British person!”

Jaspar is currently working on a play for a festival in the U.K. and also has two manuscripts ready, awaiting a response from his publisher. “One book is called Oliver’s Memoirs and is set in the world of amateur theatre. The other book, yet to be titled, is a sort of ‘P.G.Wodehouse meets Evelyn Waugh’ kind of story, where a humorous story, has something much darker under the surface.”

Jaspar is no longer with the British Council (he refuses to call himself retired), and now lives in Havant (Portsmouth), U.K. He writes, and works with a local theatre group and the local arts center. He hopes to visit India again in 2 years’ time.

Saturday, April 9, 2005, saw the launch of Jaspar Utley’s book for children, Tall Tales. There was also a reading of the book at the British Council Chennai, where children (and adults alike) turned up to hear Jaspar read the first chapter of the book where the key character of Great-Grandpa was described.

The book is about a South Indian gent, allegedly over a hundred years old, and the stories that he tells his great-grandson between frequent cups of milky sweet tea. The stories seem far-fetched for the young boy, if it weren’t for the matter-of-fact way in which they are narrated.

The rest of the event followed an innovative format, were three readers (Karthik Kumar, Tishani Doshi and Freddy Koikaran) each gave three options for stories/chapters from the book, which the children in the audience could select. So, the chapters read involved Great-grandpa’s encounter with a ghost in Fort St.George, and an incident at the zoo witnessed by the young boy, which demonstrates some truth in Great-Grandpa’s heroism.
Jaspar Utley’s Tall Tales is available at bookshops in the city.

(Pic courtesy Seven Shots, as published in Madras Plus)

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