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Beyond the Devil’s Teeth

Forty-five million years ago, the supercontinent of Gondwanaland split apart. This created what are now known as India, Africa and South America. The huge land-mass was named after the Gonds, a primitive tribe of central India. Meeting a Gond story-teller, Tahir Shah heard their ancient saga. He vowed to make an epic journey across Gondwanaland.

This is the story of his experiences as he travelled: meeting wanderers and expatriates, attending magical ceremonies, seeking treasures. Roughing it most of the way, the Author’s expeditions range through sweltering India and Pakistan, Uganda and Rwanda, Kenya and Liberia, Brazil and Argentina’s Patagonian glaciers.


“A fascinating journey from a very original point of view.”
– Michael Palin

“One of the most sustained pieces of comic writing I have ever read.”
– Robert Twigger, Literary Review

“Nothing is what it seems in this extraordinary book. Shah is a brilliantly original writer … funny yet also compassionate.”
– The Sunday Times

“Tahir Shah has a fascinating story to tell and tells it with characteristic zest.”
– Sir Fitzroy Maclean

“Gripping, entertaining and touching – a fast-moving narrative peopled with bizarre and engaging characters. One of the liveliest travel stories for a number of years.”
-Traveller Magazine

Now available as an eBook!

Breaking in as a travel writer is virtually impossible these days. No publisher worth their salt will take an unsolicited manuscript, and getting a commission is almost out of the question if you haven’t been published before. You have to get an agent and rely on them to sweet talk the publisher into taking you on. But getting an agent is no easy task in itself.

I wrote BEYOND THE DEVIL’S TEETH when I was twenty-three. I had no agent, no publisher, but a raging enthusiasm to produce a book from adventures in India, Africa and South America. I had been obsessed by the theme of Gondwanaland and the Indian tribe of the Gonds for a long while, and had made journeys based loosely on these themes.

The problem was that once I’d finished the book, no publisher would take it on. I sent the manuscript to dozens of publishing houses – great and small – and received the standard letters of refusal. After that I tried getting an agent. There was still no luck. I was turned down by absolutely everyone, and became depressed about it. I thought the book would never get in print. I put it on a shelf for three years and tried not to think about it. Then, one morning, I had an idea. I decided to get a letter-heading printed, a fabulous one, with many colours and expensive-looking type. It announced the services of a media agency, under the direction of a fictitious chief agent, Mr. William Watkins.

Then I sent the manuscript to as many famous people I could think of, including former US Presidents, heads of companies, illustrious explorers and visionaries. A small percentage of them wrote back with very good quotes for use in publicity. I printed these on large sheets of brown wrapping paper, wrapped manuscripts of BEYOND THE DEVIL’S TEETH inside, and sent them out again from my own literary agency.

Then I waited. Days passed. After that a week or two. I was about to give up hope when, one afternoon, I was sitting in my studio flat in north London eating Campbell’s soup from a can, wondering how I would ever make enough money to travel again, when the telephone rang. I picked up the receiver. It was a big publisher calling from the top floor of a tall glass building in the West End. A publisher had never called me before. The woman at the other end asked to be put through William Watkins, the chief agent. She obviously took me for a receptionist. Thinking as fast as I could, I asked the lady to hold on while I put her through. Realising that an important chief agent would never be instantly available, I laid the receiver on a chair and took the time to finish my cold soup. After three or four minutes, I picked it up, cleared my throat, and replied in the silky smooth obsequious voice I assumed my fictitious agent Watkins would have. Yes, I confirmed, I was the agent for the up and coming genius Tahir Shah and, yes, BEYOND THE DEVIL’S TEETH was still available, although I said, lying, the work had sparked considerable interest in the literary establishment.

The woman, a commissioning editor, said she very much wanted to meet Tahir Shah. She asked if I could find out when he was available.

‘He is always available,’ I said quickly.

‘Are you sure?’ she replied.

‘Quite certain.’



‘But don’t you need to check with him?’

‘I just have,’ I said coldly.

We made an appointment for the next afternoon. Before hanging up, the editor said that, as the agent, I was quite free to come along to the meeting as well.

‘Madam,’ I replied, ‘how very kind, but it may be rather difficult for me to attend as well as Mr. Shah.’




Beyond The Devil's Teeth