In Praise of Older Women. This is the title of the autobiography of Hungarian writer Stephen Vicinczey, now a professor in a Canadian University. The amazing thing about him is that he hardly knew 50 words of English when he went to Canada and published his first novel at his own expense.
It became an international best-seller and has been translated in all the major world languages. I saw it advertised in a London journal as a masterpiece of erotica. Being a man with a dirty mind, I did my best to get hold of it.
A friend sent me a photo-copy. It has just been published by Penguin Viking (India). The cover has a middle-aged woman displaying her shapely bosom.
It is as bizarre a story as I have ever read. It is based on Hungary in the last year of World War II when Stalin's Red Army was closing in on Hungary, Hitler's storm troopers were fighting a losing battle in Austria and American GIs who took over Austria had a language problem communicating with locals and with their libidos.
Stephen Vicinczey who can speak both Hungarian and English gets a part-time job as kitchen boy in an American army mess. He intended to take vows of celibacy and become a monk. He becomes a pimp arranging rates between American officers, GIs and Hungarian women who had been reduced to poverty, couldn't even afford two square meals a day for their families and had to prostitute themselves for milk powder, tinned eggs, cans of soup and cartons of cigarettes.
Vicinczey has plenty of opportunity of seeing what the barter is about. With his accumulated dollar salary, he is able to buy a flat for his widowed mother in Budapest and return to school. Under the spartan rule of the Soviets, there are few places left for Hungarians to have fun. One of them is an old Turkish bath-house where women get into bikinis and men in shorts. They make dates and have lots of sex. It would appear that Hungarian men and women, married or single, gather and make love with two or three lovers at the same time.
Stephen with a party of anti-Communists escape from Hungary and are given asylum in countries of their choice. He opts for Italy, gets a job in a college and a woman escort older than him. He discovers that older women, particularly those married and with children, make better lovers than the young and unexperienced.
It is the same in Canada where he now lives.
I like reading and writing erotica. I was eager to see if Stephen had done better than I have in my novel Sunset Club to be published by Penguin Viking in a couple of months. I don't think so.
A Coorg Saga
Sarita Madanna is a Coorgi. For some reason she resents being called one. They are a people apart from other south Indians. They are light-skinned i.e., Sarita could well be Kashmiri. They are a handsome race with grey eyes. They have a martial tradition: two of our Chiefs-of-Staff were from Coorg.
The first was General Cariappa, the second, General Thimayya. Sarita's father was a colonel of a Gorkha regiment and after retiring he was posted deputy military secretary to the President. Sarita spent many years in Delhi and speaks Hindustani fluently. Both her parents are back home in Coorg.
Sarita married a fellow Coorgi, Mandanna. She did an MBA from Bangalore and after her marriage to Mandanna who is an architect and an MBA from Wharton Business School in the United States. He was posted to Canada and they set up their home in Toronto.
The couple befriended David Davidar and his wife Rachna. Sarita showed some of her writing to David who was head of Penguin Viking. He was impressed and suggested she write a novel about Coorg. She got down to it at a frantic pace, working round the clock with a three to four hours of sleep. It took her five years to finish her first novel, Tiger Hills (Penguin Viking).
It was an imminent success. She paints the beautiful landscape of Coorg with its undulating hills and coffee plantations with the aroma of coffee in its flowers and weaves a beautiful tale of an 1878 romance in blissful prose. But for a few errors in describing the flora and fauna of the region, she makes compelling reading.
Saas versus bahu
A young Indian excitedly tells his mother he's fallen in love and is going to get married. He says, "Just for fun, Ma, I'm going to bring over three girls and you guess which one I'm going to marry." The mother agrees.
The next day, he brings three beautiful girls and sits them down on the couch. After a while he asks: "Ma, guess which one I'm going to marry."
She immediately replies: "The one on the right."
"That's amazing. How did you know?"
Mother replies, "I don't like her."
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)
(Khushwant Singh's column will not appear next week.)