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Bonds with James

Unlike his predecessors, Bond is an organisational man who often disobeys his seniors and follows his own instincts. Luxury, sex and technology play a very important role in his life, writes Prem Srivastava.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2006 03:05 IST

September 2000. I enter the classroom with trepidation. “James Bond rubs shoulders with Hamlet," shrieking headlines buzz like a swarm of bees in my head. I look back. Bond, James Bond… in a Delhi University classroom! This is how this man, iconic hero of all morality tales, the spy who came out of a jacuzzi, nestled cozily in my classroom. This was some time ago.

November 2006. I have come to love 007.

I enjoy every bit of his presence around me. More importantly, I enjoy talking about him every year to a pack of around 15 unruly students. I teach them the art of loving Bond.

No longer fearing a diatribe, I go back in time to meet Bond’s ancestors — James Fennimore Cooper’s Harvey Birch in The Spy (1821), a denizen of liminal regions caught in the middle of large opposing forces. Profoundly mysterious, perpetually transient, a peddler by ostensible profession, carrying his entire inventory on his back, The Spy conveys the essential sense of living on the margins, of society.

Then there are the heroic tales about espionage; inspiring figures like Lawrence of Arabia; Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent; Rudyard Kipling’s Kim; Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes, Mycroft and Moriarty. During World War I and II, the likes of Erskine Childlers, Sax Rohmer, John Buchan, Maugham, Eric Rambler and Graham Greene converted the spy into a stock figure. He became a hero of exceptional abilities, being sent off on missions to combat a political and racial conspiracies against the Great White Advanced Races.

By post-World War II, James Bond was ready. In a desperate bid to reflect the anxious optimism of the age, this gent fights baddies across the world. These include scheming communists, unforgiving Nazis, mysterious Asiatics and dastardly Huns. Unlike his predecessors, Bond is an organisational man who often disobeys his seniors and follows his own instincts. Luxury, sex and technology play a very important role in his life. A catalogue of his tastes in things is frequently 'up for sale.' Building up dynamism that is elementary, original and profound, spy thrillers have the purity of the primitive epic translated into current terms. History is virtually an ‘absent’ presence in this genre and the Cold War only exists in the consciousness of the text.

In Ian Fleming’s house at Oracebessa, Jamaica, one of the books on his shelvesi was the reference book, Birds of the West Indies, by the American ornithologist, James Bond. “I was determined that my secret agent should be as anonymous a personality as possible. It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet masculine was just what I needed,” explained Fleming.

Oh boy, am I waiting to see Casino Royale. I pause and finish my class.

Prem Srivastava teaches at Delhi University.