Friday, May 4, 2012

On reading English, August

I'm currently reading Upamanyu Chatterjee's "English, August". I found the book while reading a blog about the flâneur in literature. It's so striking to be reading about a functionary, halfway around the globe in 1980's India, and realize that the thoughts and emotions of the main character could very well be my own.

Of course, I suspect that much of the appeal of the story lies in its universality. Young man finishes university and moves to another location to begin his career. In August's case, the career is in the Indian civil service and the location is Madna, which to August is culturally barren. He is isolated, dislocated, and fights the encroaching loneliness with drink, marijuana, masturbation, work avoidance and running. This element I find interesting: one would think that a character who drinks and avoids work is giving up on life, and at the opposite end of the spectrum a character who runs daily (nightly, to be precise) is fighting to stay afloat.

However, the slacking and running do make sense together, and it takes a novel to show that they are both forms of escapism. August drinks and smokes and masturbates to escape his daily dreariness, and runs to keep his body fit and senses alert, to ensure that he will ultimately retain the will to get himself out of Madna.

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