Who Do You Think You Are – Prashansa Taneja, Book Lover
[Interview and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla was at the Full Circle bookstore in Khan Market when he approached a girl.
Who are you? What are you doing here?
I’m Prashansa Taneja. I just finished my Xth standard exams and now I’m doing a summer job here as a bookshop assistant. It’s my first day.
You are into books?
I’m currently reading Gurcharan Das’s The Difficulty of Being Good and finding it an intellectual read. I like the way he writes about moral dilemmas with context to ancient epics like the Mahabharat and juxtaposes them with the same moral dilemmas that we are facing today.
You are too young. What you know of moral dilemmas?
Oh, no. In the winter last year, I read John Updike’s collection of short stories and became cynical of life.
Updike writes about children growing up and leaving their parents. Many of his stories are about spouses cheating on each other.
Your friends must be reading the Twilight Series. Who introduced you to John Updike?
I was reading Time magazine when I saw this obituary of an author… I mean Updike… who had died the week before. Till then I had never heard of him. So I said to myself, “Poor thing, I must read him.” So I went to my school library…
What! Nowadays they keep books on cheating spouses for children to read. Which school you go to?
Bal Bharti School in Ranjinder Nagar. It’s a 20-minute walk from my home in Karol Bagh. If I walk leisurely, it takes half an hour. I guess it’s fine to keep Updike in the school library. Maybe our teachers wanted him… So I was saying that I went to the library and took out Updike’s My Father’s Tears and Other Stories and brought it home…
You could have read him in the library.
When I’m in the library, other books tempt me and then I cannot focus on the book I’m reading. So, I was back at home. My pre-board exams were going on. Next day was the science exam. But I read Updike over a cup of hot chocolate. Mummy could not find it out.
What you like about Updike? Who are your favorite authors?
Updike’s stories are very soft and yet they hit you very hard. He reveals the plain truths of life very well. But I don’t think I admire any one writer. Different authors have different things to say to you. I admire Oscar Wilde… for his wit and also for the interesting life he lived. I like Gilbert Chesterton’s essays. When I was young, I would read LM Montgomery. She gives a very rosy view of life. I used to identify with her heroine, Anne. I was 12 then and I thought that my life was rosy.
How is this summer job? Are you giving more business to the bookstore?
You see… when I browse, I don’t want anyone to interrupt me. Now I have to approach people as they browse by saying, “Are you looking for anything particular?” And then the person would say, “No, I’m just browsing.” But that’s what I would have said!
Your parents are glad that you are earning money?
Shh, my dad doesn’t know. When I asked him for the permission to work here, he said that he doesn’t understand that why I have to go daily to faraway Khan Market for a few thousands rupees. But it’s not about the money. I was feeling lazy at home. And bookshops are nice. I like the idea of being in them. Mummy knows about the job.
How will you go home?
Bus. It goes straight to my home. But won’t you buy any book?
Are you looking for anything particular?
Where’s the new David Remnick, mam?
Papa doesn’t know