Almost the whole year of 2015 I lived the life of a beatnik. Being unemployed, I was disillusioned with knocking doors of offices with photocopies of resume and marksheets in hand.
I would try to read novels in my small makeshift room. But seeing the pile of competitive exam study guides, I felt averse.
No matter what effort I put in to solve and decipher mathematical calculations, they confused me further.
I can still recall the summer of that year. The specific day escapes my mind. With a rush of thoughts to just leave everything behind, I took my old Liviya backpack which had a water bottle, personal journal and packs of cheap beedi. In my pocket were two library cards and a twenty rupee note mother gave.
I headed out.
I sought to completely delink myself from facing reality by finding solace in fiction. Sometimes, books penetrate past our ego’s defences revealing other worlds.
The walls, furniture and numerous shelves in the State Central Library would have a tale to tell. For during that year, I read to console myself.
Reading 62: A Model Kit of Julio Cortazar was like one psychologist mysteriously put it: “Its hacking into intellects of the esoteric”. Whatever Roberto Bolaño was able to achieve with his hallucinogenic prose, one can see it first experimented in this book. The novel had a circular and somewhat winding manner of description that it pushes the reader to decode hidden thought processes.
Cortazar had read a lot of psychology before he penned the novel. The framework of the narrative was logically based on Cortazar playing tricks on the reader.
Woes of the True Policeman, Roberto Bolaño’s last, unfinished novel runs parallel with this idea.
Óscar Amalfitano, who begins an impulsive affair with one of his students at the University of Barcelona, is haunted by his turbulent revolutionary past and death of his beautiful wife. Amalfitano tries ways and means to conceal scandalousness, but is left at a crossroads.
Bolaño wrote the novel with powerful intensity. His craft showed experimentation with the surrealistic.
Reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Collected Stories was a leap into a lexicon and mode that I had felt before, but had never delved deep into. The writings which comprised mostly his early short fictions was a shift from One Hundred Years of Solitude. But I took it as a stylistic study to comprehend Marquez’s mind.
The often quiet character K in Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart was conscientious, warm and compassionate. Sumire’s repressed sexual desires for Miu were described hauntingly. I found the subject of lesbianism expressed freely by Murakami. And when Sumire is cleansed post her disappearance, she alters her thoughts merging with reality.
Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book had a freewheeling prose style juxtaposing numerous voices. I was amazed by how Pamuk dreamily described the bustling streets and old buildings of Istanbul. The magic realism offered by him had many flourishes akin to Marquez.
The Museum of Innocence of Pamuk had a weak plot with predictable incidents. But what left me hooked to the novel was the length and expanse of the descriptions describing the innocent attraction of Kemal to Fusun.
Ann Charters’s biography of Jack Kerouac worked for me as a wondrously luminous travelogue telling the story of how Kerouac with his friends Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg hitchhiked across America. The many poetry extracts provided by Charters were a tasting menu of rich experimentation.
I was down and broke at the time, and Kerouac’s courage and fearlessness spoke to me. He taught me that constant rejection from publishers doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Frustration to Kerouac meant that he pushed more to prove his merits to critics and purists.
Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey was a conspicuous critique of the prevailing establishment. Gustad, a hardworking father goes to extremes to financially support his ailing daughter. The novel had a Tolstoyian and Dickensian manner of description highlighting suffering of the poor.
I read Mistry’s Family Matters internalising Nariman’s Parkinson’s disease. Being the cause of conflict among his children, the old man suffered in quietness. Mistry’s unique approach in giving forth descriptions varied in detail left me in awe. The prose had a refinement that made for comfortable reading. But at the heart of it was the theme of old age and how it affects and distresses concerned family members.
The Study of Human Nature edited by Leslie Stevenson was a reader of major excerpts concerning human nature. Chronicling the tale of Adam and Eve from biblical times to pioneering ancient Hindu and Greek texts, the pieces were revelatory and insightful. A Reconstruction of Freud’s Mature Theory was a brilliant essay for its accurateness touching on psychologist Sigmund Freud’s key theories — the id, ego and superego.
The Modern Tradition edited by Richard Ellman and Charles Fieldson Jr had a comprehensive collection of excerpted non-fiction on twentieth century art and philosophical movements. I still recall reading Gustave Flaubert’s take on fiction writing as ascetic religion. Friedrich Nietzche in his The Freethinker and the Consensus had all the angst and anger of the age inquiring into why agnostics and atheists go against society’s common belief systems.
I was lost and confused in 2015 trying to figure out my place in the world. Youths often face darkness and disillusionment being unemployed.
But the State Central Library was a beacon. The books there showed me an artistic path to tread on where I found solace and contentment.
We lose our inner selves into fictional worlds only to discover so much more.
This article first appeared in Sunday Supplement of The Shillong Times March 4, 2018 (link: http://www.theshillongtimes.com/2018/03/04/finding-refuge-for-a-restless-soul/ )