Book Excerpt: English, August

One of the most amazing books I’ve had the pleasure to borrow and read from my cousin’s library, English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. What matters most when it comes to such books is the time when you read it. But of course, there is no just one good time to read a book as great as English, August, is there? The book has had a major impact on me as a person, and it is one of those books I keep going back to again and again.

This is my favourite passage from the book. Enjoy!

They sat down. One whole side of the house was bordered by thirty-year-old eucalyptus tress. ‘I’m not very happy in Madna. I can’t settle down to the job -‘ He smiled shamefully. His uncle was a pale soft man, with a large nose and small brown eyes. He said nothing, but look at Agastya distastefully, prompting him to speak, to defend and justify himself. ‘Of course, nothing is fixed. I’m in a sort of state of flux, restless.’ He shuffled in his chair. ‘I don’t want challenges or responsibility or anything, all I want is to be happy -‘ He stopped, embarrassed. It seemed an awful thing to say. In that mild autumn sunlight Madna seemed light years away, yet he knew that it would return, perhaps after dark, or whenever he was alone. It seemed unreal, yet accessible, a sleepwalking eighteen hours away. He wanted to say much, but didn’t know where to begin, or how to express himself. He wanted to say, look, I don’t want heaven, or any of the other ephemerals, the power or the glory, I just want this, this moment, this sunlight, the car in the garage, that music system in my room. These gross material things, I could make these last for ever. If I have any grand desires, they are only grist for lazy fantasy – Vienna and Hong Kong and kink in Bangkok. This narrow placid world, here and now, is enough, where success means watching the rajnigandhas you planted bloom. I am not ambitious for ecstasy, you will ask me to think of the future, but the decade to come pales before this second, the span of my life is less important than its quality. I want to sit here in the mild sun and try not to think, try and escape the iniquity of the restlessness of my mind. Do you understand. Doesn’t anyone understand the absence of ambition, or the simplicity if it.

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