People stand with their faces pressed against the tall glass window. Crossword—the bookstore, which is also the only food-for-thought outlet in Cyber City in Gurgaon—is crowded. The queue to get in is endless; longer than outside a bank that has got cash. Jeffrey Archer, 76, sits on the couch inside the shop—safe from the maddening crowd, yet, itching to get out and meet his adoring fans.
“I love that stuff. It is so flattering—1,700 people came to hear me in this morning. Wouldn’t any author like that?’’ he says looking at the swamp of people in front of him.
Armed with opinions, Archer never hesitates to shoot them off. “T20 should be banned,” he says. “It is as bad as Bollywood.” And, Donald Trump? “I would agree with President Obama that one should give him a chance.” A conversation with him ends up with him having the last word.
This is his nth visit to India. It is the only place where his readers are growing. And Archer, ever the performer, is willing to pose for pictures to woo them. Can you speak up a little, he asks. The slightly slow ear is the only giveaway of his age. For the most, Archer defies his age. And trends. He is on Twitter. “I do Facebook every day,’’ he says. There are blogs too. He lives to be “with it”.
Archer recently wrapped up his seven-book series, The Clifton Chronicles. The last instalment, This Was A Man, is out on bookshelves. Harry—the protagonist, also a writer—has parallels to his own life. Emma, the love of Harry’s life, is based on his own wife, Mary. The series, his most ambitious and certainly the longest, has even found favour with critics.
It has been in a way the toughest years of Archer’s life. It was probably the first time he encountered a situation that he couldn’t outwit—cancer. “You feel lucky to be alive,’’ he says. “I was half way through The Clifton Chronicles. I knew I desperately wanted to write these seven books. And would that be taken away from me? Would I not be able to write them? That aspect of it was pretty frightening.”
He admitted making headlines that cancer surgery left him impotent. In a country where the C word looms large, Archer’s admission—and subsequent return to normal life—has made him somewhat of a hero. “Mary’s was tougher because she was bladder cancer. I was prostate,’’ he says. “She had a tougher time because you have a real chance of dying with bladder cancer. She went through a five-hour operation and came through, and went on to continue chairing the hospital. Then went to chair the Science Museum and to become a Dame. Her achievement is amazing.”
Were the five hours his toughest? “Yes,’’ he admits. “I think sometimes it is tougher if you are the one standing watching. Of course, I believe she would get through. But you are not always sure, are you?’’
What he is sure of is that he is not likely to retire anytime soon. His next book, apart from a set of short stories that are due next summer, is far more ambitious in its scale than The Clifton Chronicles. “I am trying to write a book that will conquer Kane and Abel once and for all,” he says. “I have had to live with Kane and Abel for 35 years. I would like to write something that is not necessarily bigger in sales, because nowadays that is not possible. But, certainly in reputation.”
While that is an Archer-sized task set out for him, he isn’t daunted. It is a challenge that he will certainly rise to. And he always likes to charm. This time, he offers a little nugget of personal information. “I will give you something none of the others have got,” he says. “I had a granddaughter. First girl in the family. She was born while I was on the plane from London to Bombay.”
This was a Man
By Jeffrey Archer
Price Rs 599; pages 420