A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He is the stuff dreams are made on. Bhaskar Ghose has read the entire Shakespeare—all the plays, all the sonnets. He has even read Cymbeline (who reads Cymbeline?)!
One afternoon The Delhi Walla visits the retired bureaucrat’s apartment in Mayur Vihar I. His wife, classical dancer Alarmel Valli, is in Chennai but the empty house is crowded with writers and poets (one room is filled with trashy mystery thrillers… oh no, I’d sworn not to mention it!)
Mr Ghose’s study looks very neat and the complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica looks untouched. But look closely at the book racks and you shall see only a madness in the method. The room has probably a thousand books, all arranged without any order. Anthony Burgess is clinging tight to Khushwant Singh and Rabindranath Tagore is with A.S. Byatt. One beautifully yellowing hardbound is a Wallace Stevens. Sadly the silverfish has damaged the book. The first page has a handwritten inscription:
St Stephen’s College
And there’s the bard—the Complete Works is impossible to ignore. This large Oxford Shakespeare was bought in Oxford itself by Ravi Dayal. The late editor had gifted this grand book to Mr Ghose, his dear friend.
Mr Ghose opens the hardbound to The Merchant of Venice and reads aloud Shylock’s famous speech in his balmy voice:
Signior Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Suddenly his mobile phone rings. A conversation follows—on Shakespeare!
Mr Ghose first read the entire Shakespeare during his holidays in the hill town of Nainital. He was just 17. He is now in his 70s and while Shakespeare is still a passion, the heart is too big to contain just one writer. The man who served the Indian Administrative Service for more than three decades has deep love for a famous drawing-room novelist. “Jane (Austen) is like my devi,” he says.
Among modern writers, Mr Ghose is particularly fond of Ian McEwan.
But the novels closest to his heart are the ones written by Sagarika, his only child. He takes out The Gin Drinker. The inscription on the opening page says (see last photo below):
For my dearest father
‘We be of one flesh, ye & I’
And we have the same tastes in books!
Lots of love, Ba!
Mr Ghose’s daughter– a well-known journalist–has her photographs all over the library: as a university student in Oxford; with husband, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai; her two children.
Eventually Mr Ghose returns to Shakespeare. This time he opens Romeo and Juliet.
Will in his world