I have a number of prized possessions, for which I am thankful. Some of them are relatively valuable, like my first edition Seven Pillars of Wisdom and The Mint. Some have no value, like a neem leaf from a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka or a rhododendron leaf from Cloud’s Hill. Some of them have a different value, like my 1845 copy of Household Management, an early cookbook. And some of them are simply beyond value. Into this last category falls my copy of a book called 1111 Letters For All Occasions. It is a work of insane genius. The authors are K. Malik, Anand Sagar and JS Bright. To them, and to New Light Publishers of New Delhi, I am eternally indebted. The book is intended to be a template for every letter you will ever have to write in life. All you have to do is pick up 111 Letters, flick to the appropriate section (Matrimony, employment, commercial, official and others) and look up the letter you need. Although occasionally tempted to use one, I have always allowed wiser counsel to prevail.
I found 1111 Letters in an old stationery shop in Sharjah. It was lying, unloved and unwanted inbetween some Islamic esoterica and some charts for small children to learn how a tooth is formed. I idly picked it up, was instantly enraptured and bought it on the spot regardless of cost, considerable or otherwise. I simply had to have it.
“This must be regarded as the unique book of its kind. No author has ever attempted to write such a large number of letters, covering every walk and talk of correspondence.” Say the authors modestly in the preface, noting that when the publisher commissioned this great work the authors were hesitant to take on a task of such enormity. But, luckily: “When we proceeded deep into the woods of the correspondence, we found the jungle both fascinating and rewarding.” They finish their introduction with an assurance. “The reader will reap the fruits which the authors sowed and we are sure he will relish it.”
You can sing that one, boys. Never has one relished so much as I. The book’s charm lies partly in its strange and colourful language but mostly in the fact that its authors have simply made up a number of scenarios and written letters to suit these. We are therefore introduced to a whole fictitious universe, the lives of Manmohan, Singh, Prabakher, Lal and others are exposed as they quarrel, seek appropriate daughters, ship goods to each other, fall out and then go to court. Their strange correspondences give a new insight into an odd and wonderful world.
The following is a typical slice of the genius on offer in this most compendious and compelling of works.
Failing to keep appointment
You had promised to meet me in the Stock Exchange but you never turned up.
What is the fun of having any appointment when one does not have the capacity to keep it.
Reply to the above
Dear Mr Lal
You are mistaken. You had promised to meet me in the bank and not the Stock Exchange.
I fear your memory needs some training.
With best wishes
Reply to Reply
You are a dirty liar.
We had an appointment in the Stock Exchange and not in the bank.
Please don’t lose temper.
There could have been some kind of misunderstanding between us.
Let bygones be bygones.
The above is carefully typed and verbatim. It is only a scintilla from what is, to steal a certain Dubai Shopping Mall’s catchphrase, a rare collection of wonderful things. I shall offer more on a weekly basis, I think.