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Douglas Adams

Read a lot of Douglas Adams today. Two novels and a salmon of doubt to be precise. (I had read the previous three the day before). One word of advice, if you haven't read them, stop reading this and read them at the earliest. You don't what you are missing. Sparkling imagination and a wit for the ages that man had. Perhaps the one writer who shouldn't have met with an early death.

Salmon of Doubt is a particularly engaging read. I didn't envision it to be so and had just ordered it for the sake of completeness because I wanted to read everything that I could of Douglas Adams. Salmon of Doubt sees Adams at his most personal talking about things that he admired most starting with his admiration of Beatles when he was 12. His reverence towards Bach, Richard Dawkins is plain for all to see and he puts it across in such a wonderful way. I could find myself googling away whatever piece of music he referenced, and telling myself (over and over again) to read The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.

He has this knack for describing things, using words then describing those words using other words in a way that is rather indescribable. It’s amazing that he had such a sense of humor about him at all times. He had to give a speech at this conference where scientists would present their papers. They asked him to deliver a speech which he obliged to. By the end of it all I am sure that that’s all they would remember of the conference.

He was proudest about the fact that his initials were DNA (Douglas Neal Adams). He had a unique fascination for technology and its possibilities and came up with the best uses for them. He was also remarkably prescient about how things would turn out specifically the internet and so forth. On technology he laid down the following three rules (These are not produced Verbatim, I took the liberty to jot down whatever I had in my head)

1) When you are born, whatever tech exists is part of the order of things
2) When you are young any gizmo, any gadget is a revolution, a harbinger of change.
3) As you get older though, any new technology that comes up is against the order of things.
Quite the perfect definition I find. (This was when people were saying the internet would never really take of)

There is this wonderful story in which two dogs take to him in a totally unexpected way and need him only for the purposes of ignoring him(They can’t ignore him without him actually being there you see). The prose, the writing is just mind bogglingly marvelous. The book also has a foreword by Stephen Fry who I find writes the best forewords. (He wrote a splendid one for What Ho the best of PG Wodehouse). There is the letter he wrote to the head of Disney, when work wasn’t progressing on the Hitchhiker’s movie. The description of his childhood doesn’t quite summarize my childhood but describes to a large extent my life here at IIT Kanpur.

“I vaguely remember my schooldays. They were what was going on in the background while I was listening to the Beatles”.

The fantastic thing about Douglas Adams was the fact that he could take a problem and then extrapolate to it to cosmological scale. Hitchhiker's begins with the best one I think when Arthur Dent finds his house being demolished in order to build a bypass. He is told that he should have located the notice that said so because they were already there. Shortly afterwards earth is being destroyed in order to build a hyperspace bypass and he escapes thanks to his alien friend Ford Prefect. He single handedly turned towels into objects which must be revered and the number 42 will never ever be the same. Babel Fish should be sort of fish that should exist in real life. The entire series is peppered with observations on all sorts of things, little inventions that would surely make the inventor a billionaire(Babel Fish anyone). Contradictions abound, and yet it all  makes perfect sense. No one can quite do Logical Nonsense like Douglas Adams. His definition of flying is a perfect example of this

“There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss”

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency was another that I found to be quite a masterpiece. I read it once and then quite surprisingly I flipped it right back and then read it again. Even more surprisingly I wasn’t the only one to do this. It turns out Richard Dawkins had confessed to a similar crime. It’s a unique mish mash of time travel, nonsense, eclectic characters and more nonsense and yet it all makes perfect sense by the end of it all.

Perhaps the most endearing quality that Douglas Adams possessed(I do wish I could write Possesses instead) like most other great writers is that you feel that book is written for you and no one else. The book may be a best seller and millions may have read it but no one quite gets it as well as you do. No one quite understands the quirks and no has noticed a joke on Page 62. His vision is so idiosyncratic, so personal and as it turns out funny and profound at the same for everyone else.

Again if you haven’t read Douglas Adams, do yourself the greatest favor in the world and read his stuff.

Comments

Unknown said…
Do me a favour and lend me the books, so that I may carry out your commandment and do myself a favour ....

@Rest who comment later -- Don't chastise me for not reading them earlier.

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