City Library – Sonal Aggarwal’s Books, Pitampura
A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One late evening The Delhi Walla knocked at the door of Sonal Aggarwal, a devoted reader of Anita Desai and many other authors. In her 30s, Ms Aggarwal, an industrialist’s daughter, lives in a bungalow in Pitampura, north-west Delhi. Her library is at her first-floor room.
“My present reading material,” she says, waving at about two dozen paperbacks stacked on a marble-top. “And here… ”, opening one-half of her wardrobe, she says, “must be around 200 books.”
A graduate from Delhi University’s Shri Ram College of Commerce, Ms Aggarwal spends all her time reading and writing. Taking out Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies, she says, “I’m writing a collection of short stories. I have written seven so far, but I feel I still need to learn the craft of writing.”
Ms Aggarwal’s works have been published in literary journals such as the Minnesota-based Grey Sparrow Journal, and the UK-based Open Wide Magazine. She plans to pursue Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the US. Tapping Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America, she says, “He is a two-time Booker (prize) winner and he teaches at one of the universities I’m applying to.”
It’s dark inside the wardrobe. Anita Desai’s The Village by the Sea is lying above Vikram Seth’s poetry collection Beastly Tales From Here And There. “This was the first book of poems I purchased. The second was Pablo Neruda’s Full Woman, Fleshy Apple, Hot Moon.”
Pointing to a black paperback sandwiched between Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Ms Aggarwal says, “There’s Carver here, Carver there, and another Carver there.” Raymond Carver, a short story writer and a poet, is considered one of the most influential American writers of the late 20th century. “May be it’s unwise to be public about it but I find Carver a better writer than (Ernest) Hemingway.”
The books are packed tightly in the wardrobe shelves. Charles Dickens is hidden from the view. One upper shelf is crowded with Indian authors who have written in languages other than English. Punjabi novelist Amrita Pritam’s memoirs Raseedi Ticket is between Premchand’s Hindi stories collection Sarvsheshtha Kahaniya and an English translation of Kalidas’s Sanskrit epic Meghdootam. Another shelf has Premchand’s novel Gaban lying below Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.
In another there are three Anita Desais together: Games at Twilight, Clear Light of Day and In Custody.
“Her stories are rooted in time as well as place,” says Ms Aggarwal. “In Clear Light of Day you get a sense of what it must have been like to live in Civil Lines (north Delhi) through the Partition and how life changed in small, myriad ways as it moved from one side of the great divide to the other.”
What’s Lonely Planet Paris doing down there?
“I was in Paris last year for a month-long writing workshop.”
In the city of lights, Ms Aggarwal went to the famous Shakespeare & Co but did not buy any book. “It’s shameful,” she says. “I should jump out of the window.”
What will happen to her books after she leaves Delhi to study creative writing in the US?
“l will take a few favorites with me and ask my mother to take care of the rest, until I return.”
Her reading list
Jhumpa Lahiri now
Shh, she’s reading