Monday, April 17, 2006

English, August

I'm reading Upamanyu Chatterjee's profoundly absurd book, English, August. Chatterjee's writing style is totally engrossing; his grip on the language impeccable & his descriptions brilliant. If you liked The Catcher in The Rye, you'd like this one too. Some would find some similarities with Catch-22 too. The blurb of the book says - "Agastya Sen is a young civil servant whose imagination is dominated by women, literature and soft drugs. As the novel opens, he has been posted to the small town of Madna. English August is a funny, wryly observed account of Agastya Sen's year in the sticks."

I could relate very well with the confused soul, Agastya. Though he does get a bit condescending at times towards almost everyone around him, which gets irritating & seems snooty, most of the time he just can't get less interested. He is really bored with his life and doesn't really know what he wants to do. He has made it to IAS, which is of course dream of millions, still he can't really fit into the life style, however hard his father and peers try. I'm yet to finish the book, perhaps I'd write a detailed review, perhaps I won't. Meanwhile, following is one extremely profound excerpt from the book; I really feel like this some time! Do get hold of the book, ASAP.

In his state of mind marriage was awfully remote - like a death in a road accident, it was something that happened to other people. It was inconceivable, sharing his room in Madna with someone unknown - perhaps a twenty-year-old girl with an MA in English, and getting stoned in front of her to read Marcus Aurelius. While Manik chatted with Pultukaku and elicited from him a few misanthropic monosyllables, the familiar feeling of the absurd, as much a part of him as his names, overwhelmed Agastya, and he wondered whether, when married, he would be able to exercise in front of his wife, and what he would do if, just when he was lunging for a push-up she were to say, For someone who exercises so much you're in awful shape. And suppose she stole his money? And the all-important subject of kinky sex - she might not like sharing each other's used underwear, then?

Eventually, he knew, he would marry, perhaps not out of passion, but out of convention, which was probably a safer thing. And then in either case, in a few months or years they would tire of disagreeing with each other, or what was more or less the same thing, would be inured to each other's odd and perhaps disgusting ways, the way she squeezed the tube of toothpaste and the way he drank from a glass and didn'’t rinse it, and they would slide into a placid and comfortable unhappiness, and maybe unseeingly watch TV every evening, each still a cocoon, but perhaps it would be unwise to be otherwise. And his once-secret life would be entombed in a mind half-dead to an incarcerating world, and he would remember, with a sense of bemused embarrassment, and in epiphanies flashes, brought on by uncontrollable jolts to his memory through a smell of some unexpected sight (perhaps the view from a train or an ad on TV), his this experience of Madna, that once the restlessness of his mind had seemed the most important thing in this universe, and that he had once been shaken by the profundity of an ancient Hindu poem.
Incidentally, this would be my second book by an bureaucrat, after We Weren't Lovers Like That by Navtej Sarna. Upamanyu Chatterjee, born in 1959 at Patna, Bihar, joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1983. In 1998, he was appointed Director (Languages) in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.


Jeet said...

Are sahi.. I had bought the book last month (maybe earlier) but haven't been able to start. Agle mahine tak padhne ki koshish rahegi :-)

Varun Singh said...

Jaroor padho Jeetu bhai. Mast ani Rapchik aahe :)
Ab Bangala mein train announcements seekhunga :-D

CAR said...

Have you seen the movie? Its fantastic!!

Varun Singh said...

Not yet Car. Trying to get hold of it. first movie of Rahul Bose, right?i

chitarala said...

i saw this movie way back in 97 or 98. I liked that immensely. after a year or so i stumbled upon this book in library shelf. and boy, what a book? and yes that made me buy marcus aurelius too. but alas i dint understand aurelius much. and yes chatterjee disappointed me with his mammaries....state. i ran through his latest one in this book fair, and i will say he is getting sleazier and sleazier but missing the khushwant singh's panache.

Varun Singh said...

@Chitrala: Still searching for the movie. I've also read that his later writings are no match for English August.