A vanishing world.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One warm evening The Delhi Walla knocked at the door of Advaita Kala, the author of Almost Single. Like her novelâ€™s protagonist, Ms Kala, is single. In her early 30s, she lives in a two-room apartment in Nizamuddin East, central Delhi. Her flatmates: a four-burner gas range, a double-door Godrej refrigerator, an Apple Mac laptop, a Bose iPod dock and a private library, which consist of about 30 books.
â€śWell, Iâ€™ve more than 2,000 books, but they are at my parentsâ€™ home in Gurgaon,â€ť Ms Kala says, referring to Delhiâ€™s satellite town. The novelist had been living with her parents before she moved to Nizamuddin East in December 2010. The books that are stacked in the living roomâ€™s two glass shelves were purchased after she settled down in her new pad.
With some exceptions (three Granta magazines, Nicholas D. Kristofâ€™s Half the Sky, Discovering the Vedasâ€¦) Ms Kalaâ€™s collection consist of novels: Jhumpa Lahiriâ€™s Interpreter of Maladies, Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall, Sarah Watersâ€™s The Night Watch, Rohinton Mistryâ€™s A Fine Balance, Ian McEwanâ€™s Atonementâ€¦ where is Advaita Kalaâ€™s Almost Single?
â€śHow self-indulgent that would be!â€ť Ms Kala exclaims. â€śI havenâ€™t read my novel since it hit the bookstores in 2007.â€ť Almost Single has sold more than 1,00,000 copies. When the US edition was released in 2009, New York Post wrote, â€śIt’s Sex and the City, except the city isn’t New York, it’s New Delhi.â€ť
Ms Kala is working on a new novel. â€śSometimes I reach a dead end and it gets difficult to write further. Depressed, I then drive to my favorite bookstore, Midland in Aurobindo Market. There I see hundreds of finished works, which is very inspiring.â€ť Ms Kala had visited Midland this evening, too. â€śIâ€™ve an account there.â€ť Today she purchased Alice Munroâ€™s short story collection Dance of the Happy Shades. Holding the Vintage UK paperback edition in her hand, she says, â€śIâ€™m a little partial to female writers.â€ť
Ms Kalaâ€™s library includes Orhan Pamukâ€™s The Museum of Innocence. â€śI started it but then I got distracted by another novel, but, yes, I will return to Pamuk.â€ť Sure? â€śI never ditch a book. Iâ€™m trying to finish War & Peace for the past ten years.â€ť Pouring red wine into her glass, the novelist says, â€śI must tell you that I read JM Coetzeeâ€™s Disgrace in a single afternoon. The prose was sparse. Coetzee writes about violence and violation beautifully.â€ť
Taking out Nicole Kraussâ€™s Great House from the shelf, Ms Kala says, â€śItâ€™s my current favorite. The novel connects different lives by way of a writing table and through it, the plot addresses larger issues like loneliness, parting and unstated emotions.â€ť Following a momentâ€™s silence, Ms Kala says, â€śI read a chapter and I was crying.â€ť
How emotionally wrenching it was to read Hermione Leeâ€™s biography of the melancholic novelist Virginia Woolf? â€śActually, in this book I discovered the frivolous side of Woolf which I did not detect in her novels,â€ť says Ms Kala. â€śBut my cousin is very worried that I have a Virgina Woolf biography and I live on my own.â€ť Ms Woolf had taken her own life. Ms Kala has no such immediate plan. A fan of Agatha Christie, she has all her mystery novels at her parentsâ€™ home in Gurgaon. Her aim is to collect all the Agatha Christies that are being published in the graphic novel version. â€śMost of my money goes into books,â€ť she says, refilling her wine glass. If Ms Kala finishes her second novel, she might earn more money to buy more books.
A writer’s world
A library of her own
Her money goes to books