In the eighteenth century, Justin Aloysius Trotter, or the Great Trotter, tumbles earthward to his death while surveying his vast lands and admiring his wealth from a hot air balloon. Two centuries later, the Seventh Trotter, Eugene Aloysius, narrates the epic story of a family at the fraying ends of its past glory.
The Trotter-Nama, Allan Sealy’s comedy of manners about Britain and India’s motley offspring is presented on an extravagant canvas where the chronicle of the Trotter family is generously scattered with unabashedly entertaining moments.
Here are 6 delightful instances from this mesmerizing narrative-
- The buoyant Salamandre carrying the ageing Trotter is buffeted by the strong winds of his hubris. As he proudly surveys his demesne and indulges in a feverish ecstasy of imagined power, Mr. Great Trotter loses his balance and is launched into an anti-climactic tumble. On his way down, Trotter yearns for roasted meat and dessert-
‘Justin was hungry. Might the Salamandre have sent down the tandoori partridge? He looked about him: it had not. The bird was wasted, his lunch floating away. But it was not a tandoori partridge he craved, nor was it the curried doves. It was nothing savoury; rather, a taste he had almost forgotten thanks to a hasty vow….’
- From the gossamer hammock of riches and power, the Great Trotter billows down into the dense, corrugated waste of his neighbourhood. The final resting place of the doyen, the gutter, is described by the frenzied narrator in a hyperbolic verbal diarrhoea –
‘…of cretins, the discharge of pimps, the lavings of lepers, the spewings of drunkards, …the moultings of reptiles, the crackling of corpses—
Narrator, do you hear me? Your eyes are rolling!
— the bedding of incontinents, the bile of oil painters, the gall of historians, the swaddling of infants,…the betel-juice of bicyclists, the chewing-gum of motorcyclists….’
- Expertly crafting a fresh batch of jalebis- a wildly popular sweetmeat- Mansoor Halvai expresses comical disbelief at a refusal of his precious offering. His exaltation of the silver leaf covered, syrup coated crisp coils of deliciousness is as amusing as his absurd attempts at enticing Yakub –
‘He handed the jalebis to Yakub on a leaf, and laughed out loud as he did. ‘Sorry, Yakub! I misheard you. For a moment I thought you said no!’ His eyes bulged. ‘You did? Yakub, bhai, what are you saying! Surely you mean yes, yes? No? Yakub, reconsider, I beg you—the offer is free, no strings attached. Shun this foolery. Look, here’s gold beneath the silver—see the precious liquid running in these veins? You’re not well, that’s it; the sun’s gone to your head.’
- The crippled artist Marazzi pricks the grandiose bubble that the Great Trotter floats on by painting Sans Souci is all its flawed and skewed incompleteness. The ruins of the ambitious project are no deterrent to either Monsieur Trotter’s flamboyance or Marazzi’s reproof-
‘Do you know,’ he offered, his good humour returning, ‘I mean to call my seat Sans Souci.’
Marazzi’s eyes disappeared in a smile. ‘Monsieur Trotter is doubtless aware that every house built in Europe since the peace is called Sans Souci. There are six in my district alone.’
- E Trotter hoodwinks airlines to manipulate their determination to appease their customer and gets himself a fun, relaxing experience out of all the chaos he single-handedly generates-
‘The last call for Mr E. Trotter. You sit out ten minutes. Will Mr E. Trotter please report immediately to Gate 6. Stay put for another ten. Mr E. Trotter, you are wanted immediately at Gate 6. Then you count, slowly, to a hundred, and rush out. And after a little storm and stress they slap a First Class boarding pass into your hands because the stand-by crowd have filled up Economy. Then a whole bus, all to yourself, racing past the hangars…..’
- Sunya, a poulterer, indulges in rhapsodic rapture at his choice of profession and places the fruit of his labour, the humble egg, in a halo of purity bolstered on the authority of scriptures and old codes-
‘No, an egg is a noble thing. Consider its shape: there is the sunya, the zero from which all things spring, to which all things tend. Consider its colour: there is the whiteness of the sun, of cows, of milk, of pure ghi, of goddesses, of all good things. An egg is blameless. An egg is smooth, hairless and un-begotten. It is firm, it is fragile, it is flawless, it is just fine.’
Allan Sealy, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and the Padma Shri, proves once again his ability to elevate the mundane, add sparkle to the dreary and to create unforgettable characters out of his wickedly masterful humour.
For more of his magic, read The Trotter-Nama!