Eons ago, as a six year old, I had walked into my mother's room to find her watching a Bengali film. A product of my north Indian environment, I was understandably disappointed, but snuggled into the bed to watch the movie anyway. I remember watching the entire film, but the film was lost in the recesses of memories. What did remain indelibly etched was the memory of a man singing ‘Akash bhora, surjo tara’, prancing along a road. I always understood that scene to represent incredible happiness.
As a six year old, I had watched 'Komol Gandhar', and remembered only what had impressed me the most, a man singing about the joy of his existence.
The previous paragraph has nothing to do with the book. Why do I even try to talk about a book which has been universally acclaimed? It is my six year old mind, which takes its own impressions, even if entails ignoring salient points, which wants to write about a book it has identified with after a long time.
English, August was read during journeys. It was read while I waited in airports, rode buses and tried to ignore the trembles of a tiny plane in bad weather. It was read while lines demarcating homes blurred.
The book speaks of Agastya, an incomplete Bengali, uprooted from the world he knows, to a village, where he is filled with self doubt. “The mind is restless, Krishna”, he whispers to himself, while murdering sacred cows in his own mind. He does not identify with the world he has been exiled to in the guise of an Indian Administrative officer, and wonders at his own choices and desires. He vacillates, is mostly confused and uses a bitter, cynical sense of humour to stay afloat.
As I move from city to city, living out of a suitcase and calling three places current address, uprooted from my known world to strange lands, where I make temporary homes with strangers, swap stories with people I would know only for a few days, make friends with travelers and try to take charge of my own existence, the book speaks of me. Agastya, in his own Madna, goes through trials and travails I go through in an urban setting. I have my own doubts, my own restlessness. As do perhaps thousands of uprooted men and women, far away from what was once home and now is a vacation.
The definition of home is a vague theory now. My Madna is not where I want a life, but alternatives do not appeal either. What I have chosen for a career gives rise to self doubts. Of my own suitability and its significance. There are half hearted attempts to make changes and a cowardly return to safety. Agastya travels, takes refuge in masturbation and marijuana, and tries to forget destinations during journeys. A journey is an escape from the responsibilities of the destinations. It remains the most insightful idea in the book.
English, August became my story. It spoke of a Bengali man, not conforming to the idea of a traditional Bengali, yet, unwilling to let go of the few strands which identify him as such. It spoke of a lack of ambitions, a confused idea of an ideal life and restless minds. Others have identified with it and more will. This remains the tale of my journey with it.