Arthur Rowe @The Ministry of Fear


Coincidence struck. I turned the page of the novel that’s keeping me gripped – Graham Greene’s Ministry of fear – to a passage that came close to a piece of news I started my morning with Link here – about a man in Pune who beheaded his wife over an argument and then walked all the way to the police station, cool and calm, not a drop of remorse or fear.

Arthur Rowe, Greene’s protagonist poisoned his wife and since then, was tried as a murderer and got acquitted. Reproducing a passage that celebrates Greene’s philosophical musings, often a hallmark of his writing, on being a murderer, on losing innocence, on the fact that there are no fairytales. Bear with me, this is a bit long, but whatever there is, is essential Graham Greene:

“A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous, but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man – a man who takes either tea or coffee for breakfast, a man who likes a good book and perhaps reads biography rather than fiction, a man who at a regular hour goes to bed, who tries to develop good physical habits but possibly suffers from constipation, who prefers either dogs or cats and has certain views about politics.

It is only if the murderer is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.

Arthur Rowe was monstrous. His early childhood had been passed before the first world war, and the impressions of childhood are ineffaceable. He was brought up to believe that it was wrong to inflict pain, but he was often ill, his teeth were bad and he suffered agonies from an inefficient dentist he knew as Mr. Griggs. He learned before he was seven what pain was like – he wouldn’t willingly allow even a rat to suffer it. In childhood we live under the brightness of immortality – heaven is as near and actual as the seaside. Behind the complicated details of the world stand the simplicities: God is good, the grown-up man or woman knows the answer to every question, there is such a thing as truth, and justice is as measured and faultless as a clock. Our heroes are simple: they are brave, they tell the truth, they are good swordsmen and they are never in the long run defeated. That is why no later books satisfy us like those which were read to us in childhood – for those promised a world of great simplicity of which we knew the rules, but the later books are complicated and contradictory (Like this one 🙂 haha) with experience; they are formed out of our own disappointing memories – of the V.C. in the police-court dock, of the faked income-tax return, the sins in corners, and the hollow voice of the man we despised talking to us of courage and purity. The Little Duke is dead and betrayed and forgotten; we cannot recognise the villain and we suspect the hero and the world is a small, cramped place. The two great popular statements of faith are ‘What a small place the world is’ and ‘I’m a stranger here myself.’  “

The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene


This thought came to me when I had just started reading today – that if reading is a skill, we might be getting better at it with practice. And when we’re younger, we often don’t know what to look for.
Just like the big data analytics which has hit big time in this “smart” century.
I know I’ve read amazing authors like Margaret Atwood, a little bit of Neruda, some Marquez, some heavy-duty history books and all, but probably didn’t know at the time “what to look for”.
It’s so subjective a thing and yet, well, there are learnings you carry for life. Like when I read Shantaram and I carried the memory of the standing babas for some reason while during my second reading much later, this Mumbai don’s version of the theory of karma is what I found overwhelmingly powerful.

With this thought, and with this realisation, reproducing an amazing exchange between “Rowe”, Graham Greene’s protagonist here with Mr. Rennit, a detective who is reluctant to accept Rowe as a prospective client, all the while suspicious and dismissive, in war-impacted Britain:

ministry of fear 1

‘Listen’, Rowe said, ‘be reasonable’. You know you can do with a client just as much as I can do with you. I can pay, pay well. Be sensible and unlock that cupboard (Rowe had unwittingly opened the door only to find the old man hurriedly tucking a bottle away into a cupboard) and let’s have a drink on it together. These raids are bad for the nerves. One has to have a little something…’
The stiffness drained slowly out of Mr. Rennit’s attitude as he looked cautiously back at Rowe. He stroked his bald head and said, ‘Perhaps you’re right. One gets rattled. I’ve never objected to stimulants as stimulants.

I read that, and I went tee hee hee…
Now, wouldn’t I want to use that someday! Especially since my spirit-filled past is fully behind me?