Ooh—a new, old manuscript!

Eureka! I just found an old manuscript for a novel in my attic. Not just any old manuscript.

It was in a trunk my family has owned for a century and a half, give or take a few decades. The trunk belonged to my great4 grandfather, who gained notoriety by becoming the first of the lineage to commit the cardinal Hindu sin of crossing the seven seas.

The Baudhayana Sutra, one of the Hindu Dharma Shastras, says that “making voyages by sea” (II.1.2.2) is an offense which will cause pataniya, loss of caste. It offers a rather difficult penance:

“They shall eat every fourth mealtime a little food, bathe at the time of the three libations (morning, noon and evening), passing the day standing and the night sitting. After the lapse of three years, they throw off their guilt.”

Enhanced purgation techniques, I am sure you will agree.

My great4 grandfather atoned by recrossing the seven seas a few years later with a lot of money, probably in that trunk, and using some of it so priests could conduct the rites necessary to reestablish his chaste Hindu status. I doubt he practiced the prescribed three-year penance, however.

Back to the novel. It is titled Alice in ‘Industan and seems to have been written by some Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. I googled ‘im and Eureka! found that ‘e was really Lewis Carroll.

alice in 'industan

alice in ‘industan

O frabjous day! I had found something on par with—or maybe even better than—the recent find of a new, old Harper Lee manuscript. Or the recent find of a new, old Dr. Seuss manuscript. Or the recent find of a new, old Arthur Conan Doyle manuscript. Or all the finds of new, old manuscripts that are coming up, if my gut feeling is not due to my having jabbed myself on a corner of that trunk.

Extraordinary, isn’t it, this spurt of discovery of literary treasure? Archeologists and paleontologists have nothing on us new, old book diviners. I have been hearing that residents of Stratford-upon-Avon are now charging (and signing anticipatory contracts with) people to look through their attics. Friendly advice: if you are interested, you should get into the act now, before demand drives costs up.

After finding the unpublished book, I was curious to know how it had landed up in my great4 grandfather’s possession. I rummaged around in the trunk a bit more, and found a personal diary.

Seems my great4 grandfather took up the study of law after he reached England, and “mucked around” in London’s courts for a while before moving to Oxford, where he came into contact with a young man with a stammer, a genius for nonsensical writing and a predilection for taking photographs of young girls in various stages of undress.

This last trait had convinced the young man, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, that it was in his own best interests to befriend people in the legal profession.

My great4 grandfather writes that sometime at the end of the 50s, the two of them made a quiet, unannounced visit to India, where they spent a few months photographing young girls in various stages of undress in village ponds before they just made it on board a ship back to England a hawser length away from a lynch mob.

girls bathing in pond

girls bathing in pond

My great4 grandfather’s diary is rather vague about what else they did in ‘Industan, and I presume it is not a matter of chance that Dodgson’s personal diaries for the period 1858 to 1862 are missing.

Believe me (and I am prepared to stake my career on this, the one I have yet to establish): this novel, Alice in ‘Industan, tells an extraordinary tale that shames Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Alice is all grown up, and the things she gets up to in ‘Industan!

After I found the manuscript, I kind of passed the word around and have been flooded with offers. A gentleman from Penguin Jabberwocky was first. He flew over with a three-book offer over the next two years, which is generous. If I accept it, it will give me adequate time to keep searching my great4 grandfather’s trunk and the rest of the attic.

Simon, Schuster, Tweedledum & Tweedledee tumbled in to join the battle with a five-book offer.

Hatchet & Vorpal Sword has been desperately trying to cut a deal with me, while the rep from BigMacmillan told me, “That Carroll manuscript you found? I am lovin’ it.”

I got an email from Johnny Depp, who wanted to know if the Mad ‘Atter character was featured in Alice in ‘Industan. He said it has always been his ambition to act as the Mad ‘Atter in a movie set in ‘Industan; the whole world knows, of course, that he is adeppt at that particular role.

Just as I was about to publish this post, I also got a message from Julianne Moore, winner of this year’s Oscar for best actress for her role in and as Still Alice. Naturally, she is all excited about doing moore Alice roles.

Most extraordinary: the real estate magnate, Donald Sterling, has offered to buy my attic providing I have no African Americans or even African ‘Industanis living there.

You got any suggestions for ways to find other new, old manuscripts? Let me know in the comments. I’ll make you an offer you won‘t refuse.

Ooh—a new, old manuscript!

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 4 min