Thursday, June 16, 2011

Column 2 in City Buzz, Bangalore

Continuing from last week...
Victorian reading rooms, leisurely reads and cardamom tea
Between pop fiction and heavy Lit, there is another I was itching to start all afternoon, first time author Shehryar Fazli’s Invitation, a very recent release. I am a huge fan of Pakistani writing, so much that I haven’t yet read a book that I wouldn’t heartily recommend. From Saadat Hasan Manto to Mohammed Hanif to Daniyal Mueenudhin to my very favourite Mohsin Hamid to even the fiery Fathima Bhutto (though her writing remains biased), I love them all. Much like I almost blindly love their music. But that’s another story. I have much hope from Fazli as well. Like the other writers I mention, the jacket of the book says the story is set in Karachi and the excesses of its pretty people. Going by precedents in the other books, I know I won’t be disappointed.
Once I sign off here for this month, I shall be returning to Bronte, going back to where I started this long soliloquy. I never studied Literature, though not for lack of wanting, so several passages and their intricacies nevertheless escape my attention. But what never ceases to amaze me is the boundless imagination of the Bronte sisters who wrote the masterpieces that they did without having the luxury of travel, vast experiences, much money or a room of their own. As to why the last two are important, may I suggest you read that jewel in feminist polemic, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.
In keeping with the people, the setting and the places they write about, Victorian novels are designed to be savoured slowly, if you ask me. I don’t know about you, but if I try to hurry through a sentence in such a book, I am punished by having to go back and read it slowly. Only then can I turn the sentence around in my mind and see the picture the author has drawn for me. I can’t allow myself a page when I have five minutes to wait someplace. Like how the book was probably written in long slanting handwriting across small pages in blue ink drawn from an inkpot sitting by the right side on a writer’s cabinet, a classic is meant to be read in a particular setting.
Let’s fantasize of a nice high backed chair in a cozy room. Add a fireplace if the weather gets too cold. An Irish Setter would lie by the end of the room and you take your time reading a governess’ tale. Sounds just right, doesn’t it? Quite like a turntable and a few records. Quite like a cup of tea. How so, you ask?
Well, a classic is rather like a cup of hot, sweet milky tea, flavoured with three pods of cardamom. You would want to sip it slowly and let the cardamom linger on your tongue and the aroma drift in the air. You would want to sit across a few friends and “…like on the table, when we’re speaking, the light of a bottle of intelligent wine,” as Neruda puts it. You would want to prolong the conversation, stopping to listen to the cicadas, to watch a firefly in flight.
That isn’t to say there cannot be a pleasing picture for a newer novel. Wouldn’t reading a quick page turner be like a grande serving of say, cafĂ© mocha? There would be Akon or some rock playing on the sound system in the background. You would be with friends talking of shopping and crushes and concerts, trying to be heard above the music. The mocha is sweet, with a dash of chocolate. You linger over the glass and have a fun afternoon. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t also enjoy a cup of cardamom tea now, does it?

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