English, August – A Decade Later


Earlier today, I was watching Kevin Spacey’s Shipping News. It’s about a guy who moves to Newfoundland and builds a new life after his wife’s death and his parents’ suicide.

It reminded me of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August. Strange, because English, August is quite the reverse. It’s about existential crisis encountered on moving to a new town and a new job. The protagonist is also very, very cynical, quite unlike Kevin Spacey in Shipping News, who is just trying to put behind the demons of his past, and the movie is themed on rebirth.

The book had a strong, strong grip on me in college. I bought it just before I moved to NITK on a whim, because I liked the title and Rahul Bose on the cover with a frog. It was one of the few books I’d brought along with me when I first moved to Surathkal. I read it cover to cover, over and over again. It riveted me in a way nothing I’d read before had. Why, I even mentioned it on this blog more than a few times as a book that has influenced me a lot.

When I started at NITK, I was a cynical big city girl who’d seen and read way too much to be happy in a small town. Back then, I hadn’t yet understood that I was really a loner and that rooms full of people weren’t where I naturally thrived. I missed my friends, boys and girls who shared my dry sense of humor, were outraged at the same things I outraged at, liked Tamil movies but wouldn’t be caught dead watching a Rajinikanth-starrer…… the works.

So August Sen appealed to me. Surathkal felt to me as desolate as Madna, and the attempts people made to have a life there felt fake to me, like the semblance of a social life felt to August. I felt little if any passion for things. The cynical way with which Agastya regarded the people he met seemed a good, almost defensive way to understand the horde of new people I was meeting without having to get too involved. Like how August had cleared the IAS exam and was stuck in a rural area wondering ‘now what?’, I was wondering if I was cut out for engineering after clearing the AIEEE. The ladies at the GB Mess were analogous to Vasant and his terrible cooking.

Things changed a lot since then. I realized I could love computer science. I fell in with a group of people with whom I could be myself, and today, though most of them don’t keep in touch with each other, I keep in touch with all of them.

But what did not change was that every year or two for the past decade, I’d move to yet another desolate place without charm and fun people, where everyone around me stayed friends because there was no one else, where there were fun things the people I worked or studied with wouldn’t do because it was infra-dig to them, but instead try to create a substitute world of their own that somehow was never as fun as I’d like. I’d always feel cloistered, and always feel like it was a temporary situation and I didn’t want to waste time getting comfortable because, what was the point, I’d have to do it all over again. There was an air of helplessness and inability to change my life situation.

However, I’d decided by my final year at NITK, that English, August‘s effect was me was akin to cannabis, and decided I shouldn’t be letting it affect my world view so much. I had gotten comfortable with my armchair cynicism so much that I wasn’t motivated to break out of the rut it had gotten me into, much like the lethargy and complacence that marijuana smokers say come with some strains. I decided no matter how boring or irritable or terrible the situation I was in, I would have to at least attempt to add some value to my own life from it, instead of twiddling my thumbs.

I took my dog-eared copy of English, August (which by then had had its spine broken), home and relegated it to the back of my bookshelf. I could have chosen to take it along with me when I moved to Irvine, but I didn’t. I relived Madna over and over again, and each time it made a little more sense than the last, and affected me even lesser. I wasn’t looking for my Delhi in my Madna anymore, and I wasn’t looking for my Dhrubo in every person I met. The phrases from the book I remembered like the lyrics to a Rebecca Black song didn’t anymore spring to mind and make me laugh. I learnt to find joy in every city I lived in, and finally gained enough control of my life to not have to go to cities I knew I wouldn’t be happy in, because no matter how hard I tried, I can’t get the better of the loner city slicker in me who feels most comfortable with the anonymity of crowded public places and hidden bookstores.

So, I did move on from the rut my cynicism got me into. The cynicism itself though…. I like to say I’m in the throes of Cynicism 2.0. I have a genuine appreciation for honest efforts and emotions. I don’t really believe what people say about themselves anymore, no matter how honest, because people don’t see themselves the way I would see them. And I’m cynical and skeptical about my own words as well… I don’t assume what I’ve just said is unique to me anymore. My cynicism has been tempered with a healthy pragmatism and bias to getting things done.

I wonder what my life would have been without English, August though. I mean, what would have happened if I’d picked up Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey that day instead? I wouldn’t have taken it to NITK for sure. Would I have been more of a pessimist or less? Would I have been able to cope with the disappointment and disillusionment as well? I don’t know.

So after I was done with the uplifting Shipping News today, I googled, as I’d done occasionally over the years, for ‘watch online english august’. I’ve done this in the past for other Indie movies, and have managed to find and watch most of them, but English, August? Nope. No success. I’m even willing to pay for a DVD But all there is this teasing line on Dev Benegal’s blog  and no follow up.

I really enjoyed watching Road, Movie and wonder what a younger Mr. Benegal did with my favorite book, how he communicated the feeling of desolation and being misunderstood as well as the book. I like Rahul Bose a lot and wonder what he was like early on in his career. And the rest of the cast don’t agree with what I’d imagined the characters to look like, to the point where I’m really interested with the director’s interpretations of them.

Do I want to watch the movie? Ten years ago, I really did want to. Then for a while in the middle, I didn’t, because I didn’t want to ruin the book for me. But now, I’ve gone back to really wanting to, because not only do I wonder how such a philosophical journey is communicated in a film script, but also because I wonder if it all will still make sense to me.

I’m kind of afraid it will.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
This entry was posted in analysis, Flashback, movies, Priya's Travails, Reading and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to English, August – A Decade Later

  1. djds4rce says:

    For me Augustya taught even more than that. “Each Wo(man) is her own island, no one will quite understand you like yourself”. It thought me enjoy oneself in seclusion. Yes I have my own group, having its own activities and fun. But deep within a part of me will never let any one come closer. For a guy like me Cynicism is romance and self imposed seclusion is intimacy. But yet I refuse to move out from a flat which houses more than 5 people at any given time. They let me be and it suits me. I am not even sure why I am pouring out all this, that too in the comments section.

    And yes Its my all time favorite book which I have re read n number of times. Btw Pai Suhas linked me here.

    • wanderlust says:

      hey, i don’t know the guy who referred you to this post, but thanks to both of you for reading 🙂

      I guess as we get older, we learn to be comfortable by ourselves, August or no August 🙂

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