City Library – Advaita Kala’s Books, Nizamuddin East
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 novel’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.
“Well, I’ve more than 2,000 books, but they are at my parents’ home in Gurgaon,” Ms Kala says, referring to Delhi’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 room’s two glass shelves were purchased after she settled down in her new pad.
With some exceptions (three Granta magazines, Nicholas D. Kristof’s Half the Sky, Discovering the Vedas…) Ms Kala’s collection consist of novels: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall, Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Ian McEwan’s Atonement… where is Advaita Kala’s Almost Single?
“How self-indulgent that would be!” Ms Kala exclaims. “I haven’t read my novel since it hit the bookstores in 2007.” Almost Single has sold more than 1,00,000 copies. When the US edition was released in 2009, New York Post wrote, “It’s Sex and the City, except the city isn’t New York, it’s New Delhi.”
Ms Kala is working on a new novel. “Sometimes 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.” Ms Kala had visited Midland this evening, too. “I’ve an account there.” Today she purchased Alice Munro’s short story collection Dance of the Happy Shades. Holding the Vintage UK paperback edition in her hand, she says, “I’m a little partial to female writers.”
Ms Kala’s library includes Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence. “I started it but then I got distracted by another novel, but, yes, I will return to Pamuk.” Sure? “I never ditch a book. I’m trying to finish War & Peace for the past ten years.” Pouring red wine into her glass, the novelist says, “I must tell you that I read JM Coetzee’s Disgrace in a single afternoon. The prose was sparse. Coetzee writes about violence and violation beautifully.”
Taking out Nicole Krauss’s Great House from the shelf, Ms Kala says, “It’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.” Following a moment’s silence, Ms Kala says, “I read a chapter and I was crying.”
How emotionally wrenching it was to read Hermione Lee’s biography of the melancholic novelist Virginia Woolf? “Actually, in this book I discovered the frivolous side of Woolf which I did not detect in her novels,” says Ms Kala. “But my cousin is very worried that I have a Virgina Woolf biography and I live on my own.” 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 parents’ home in Gurgaon. Her aim is to collect all the Agatha Christies that are being published in the graphic novel version. “Most of my money goes into books,” 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