English, August

Every Sunday, sharp at 3 pm, The Sunday Book Club takes over my Twitter timeline. Ever since I’ve been introduced to their chat sessions and group members, book recommendations, discussions and challenges have made reading so much more enjoyable. Yes, this is possible, and it’s because I get to share my thoughts and ideas with kindred spirits, who know the difference between using a bookmark and a dog ear.

In March 2015, they held a book challenge where the members had to read one book throughout the month, culminating in a ‘maha’ twitter discussion. The book in question, English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. Now I had no idea about this fellow and was pretty much skeptical about this at first, but never one to back down from a challenge, I decided to give it a shot.

English, August

The book revolves around the character of Agastya, an urban-bred boy, who has recently joined the Indian Administrative Service and is bound to head to Madna, a small town in Bengal, for his training. He and his friend often indulge in soft drugs, while pondering over the many mysteries of life.

“I’ve a feeling, August, you’re going to be hazaar fucked in Madna.”

Agastya and his friend are anglophiles, and I didn’t realize this aspect till I hadn’t read other books in this genre. Having lived the first seventeen years of my life in Calcutta, I have come to recognize this group, and I must confess, sometimes I find myself among them. It’s a little like being a fish out of the water. It’s just a sense of not knowing where one truly belongs. Agastya and his friend Prashant were friends since boarding school in Darjeeling. A school for the privileged, they found themselves among Anglo Indians and the Tibetans, and Agastya longed to be one of them, he wished he had a name like them say, Keith, and an accent just like theirs.

As the author describes the train journey from New Delhi to Madna, it becomes clearer how uncomfortable Agastya was getting, how the rural scenes that zipped by mere pictures from a book but not a reality. At least, not yet. The Rest House where he puts up is sparsely furnished with just the basic necessities and a swarm of mosquitoes and lizards for company in his room. Madna was already well known for being the hottest in summer last year, and Agastya’s difficulties were only about to begin.

The Indian administration is a tricky and intricate business, and it takes time and presence of mind to maneuver one’s way through it. From addressing one’s seniors and subordinates in an appropriate manner to massaging the right ego, hobnobbing with the gentry to accepting invitations to parties, a lot of show business is involved. And Agastya seemed quite indifferent about it all. He was not fueled by the need to push development in rural Bengal, but he seemed to plod on from day to day in a drug-induced sexless haze. It’s almost as if he had made himself sufficiently immune to his surroundings, so as not to be greatly affected by it all.

He befriends a cartoonist who works for the local paper. Sathe’s story is such that his father never wanted him to be a cartoonist, when he himself had worked so hard to make so much of money. This resonated with me. I’m definitely not saying my parents laughed at my career choices, but they were quite fixated on me pursuing medical. This is a phenomenon quite familiar in India. Doctor, engineer, lawyer, civil services… these are sometimes the only choices parents see. Of course, times are a changing, and the younger generation know now exactly what they want to be. Agastya eventually disentangles himself from Madna and strives to carve out his own way.

This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.


6 thoughts on “English, August

  1. I had read English, August way back when I was in college. I had loved it then. I immediately sought to get Upamanyu Chatterjee’s other books. But, they were quite dud.


  2. I’ve never heard of that book, and have to admit, don’t read enough books about (or set in) India. Thanks for the introduction to this book, sounds interesting!


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