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Men at work
 

 

The mason squatting by an unfinished wall with a brick in his hand. His other hand engaged in swift movements as his trowel mixes cement and water. And gradually, the bricks and cement are carefully alternated in rhythm to form a wall. Irwin Allan Sealy’s latest book The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is such an experience, it observes people at work. A gardener at work, a bricklayer at work, and a writer at work. Written in the form of an almanac after a decade-long hiatus, the book is about 433 square yards of land in Dehra Dun, at the foot of the Himalayas, where the writer has built a miniature version of The Wild Goose Pagoda. The book takes us through the process, introduces us to the people involved and lets us in to this modernist house.

 

Sealy initially wanted to call the book, “Psychopathology of Everyday Life”. That was until he picked up a copy of Freud’s book by the same name from the rag-and-bone market. Inspite of other characters and fleeting conversations, the book essentially is a soliloquy. There’s a little of every form of writing - prose, poetry, pictures, few recipes, random notes — all written in a dated diary format. From Basho’s poetry to H.G. Well’s sentences, the book discusses writers in the same breath it talks about the night jasmine, the frangipani tree and the weeping fig. To quote Sealy, “The Almanack is for Everyman. On whom the sun shines with equal vigour everywhere and on whom the rain rains without partisan wetness. In recent times it has been demoted to a yearbook, a treasury of facts, but fancy was an important part of old almanacks: poems, stories, riddles, advice, all found a home in that rattlebag.”

 

The gardener in the writer is a curiosity, and it is a daring book. Daring because it is passive. Nothing happens. You continue reading because you like the way the writer thinks, though some of it might bounce off your head, you’d still flip the pages wondering why someone would write this book! In due course, you come to adore Dhani, the gardener who is clumsy, sluggish and dutiful. Together with the writer, he fashions a garden that has every flower and fruit you can name. Habilius, with his girlfriend Beauty and his assistant Victor, make up the rest of the characters. His daughter Filo, his wife Maeuve, and his sick father make guest appearances.

 

Sealy, who turned 60 during the beginning of book, reflects on the four stages of an ideal life in classical times; student, householder, forest dweller and an ascetic. “At 60, a man began parting with his qualities preparing to be nobody. Striving, ambition, the pomade jar, these things were put away. He did not disburse his wealth but when he acquired a cardigan he gave away a sweater. He dwelt at the edge of the forest if not further in, alone, or with his wife.”

 

Poetic and witty, these entries make mundane things, even a Chinese folding aluminium ladder or an Internet router seem fascinating. “Fear is a bad instructor. The router is eyeing you. You cannot meet the gaze. You make a cup of coffee instead. Halfway through you turn sharply (‘surprise your fear’) and switch it back on. Fear slips in ahead.”

 

There is a bit of China in the pages. Apart from the fact that the house he is building is inspired by The Wild Goose Pagoda located in Xian, he also takes a trip to Bejing where all women are beautiful, and all the young men puppies.

 

All writers, published or aspiring, have at some stage imagined themselves leading a life zoned off from the rest of the world, in a small town, where the doorbell either meant the milkman or the maid, where hours translated to words. The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is not a book for everyone. But it is definitely for those who would like to read a writer at work or to watch a gardener at work.

 

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda; Irwin Allan Sealy, Aleph Book Company, Rs. 595.

 
 
 

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