Posts tagged Peter Ustinov
Posts tagged Peter Ustinov
I started reading “The Old man and Mr. Smith” with misgivings because it sounded too profound for my understanding. But as I read it, I loved it because while it was indeed profound, it was also hilarious and immensely entertaining.
OM&MS is a fable of God (the old man) and Devil (Mr. Smith) coming down to earth to see the progress or otherwise of their creation – man. They land in America, the supposed “God’s own country”, and soon become FBI’s most-wanted for counterfeiting money. Coming down to earth in human form, and dealing with idiosyncratic humans gradually makes them mortal as they travel across the globe. They escape to Russia, Germany and then to Israel, my favourite section, where they are required to prove that they are “Jews” to the religious court. The discussion that follows in this section is brilliant, and focuses on how we lose the forest for the tree, and all the religious fanaticism actually removes God from the picture. In China, they get caught in an impending revolution, and escape to Japan where they meet an old man who attempts at immortality and holds an entire industrial empire dedicated to keeping him alive – his policy being “good and evil have been replaced by efficiency and inefficiency” . At the very end of their powers, they reach India and run into Godmen, who believe in them, and who appear far more advanced in their miraculous powers than the God and Devil themselves. They learn a thing of two from the Godmen, and split their ways – the old man ascending into his heaven from the tallest peak on earth, and Mr. Smith shedding his mortal remains to return to the bowels of earth.
The description of various countries is extremely cliche’d, which is to be expected because such cliche’s are how the rest of the world perceives them. For example, when God and Devil materialise in the bathroom of the White House, where the President is in a state of undress, the first thing the President asks them is not “who are you” but “how did you get in” ! While it is indeed funny, it surely reflects the world’s view of the American obsession to security (they even have a department called “Homeland Security”, for God’s sake – other countries have the military !). Ustinov must have strong feelings about (most likely, against) America, because the old man and Smith spend maximum time there. They are recognised as who they are, by the unlikeliest people – a psychiatrist who deals with the insane, mad men in an asylum and a forest ranger who shunned the world to live above the snowline, away from humanity. The FBI on the other hand, consider them Russian spies (or worse, extra-terrestrials)! And a Jesuist Father, who predicts the second coming of God, rejects them as imposters, much to their chagrin. This story can be read at different levels – merely as a fable, where you can safely overlook the lengthy dialogues and monologues, or for all the philosophical musings thrown in, with the story of God and Devil merely serving to carry the philosophy forward. Either way, a very interesting read.
Book: The Old Man And Mr Smith
Author: Peter Ustinov
Year of Publication: 1992