Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – Author Rakhshanda Jalil, Central Delhi
The parlour confession.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Proust Questionnaire represents a confessional game that owes its structure to answers given by celebrated French writer Marcel Proust in two parties that he attended at ages 13 and 20 in the late 19th century.
The Delhi Walla have brought these Parisian parlour confessions into the Indian capital to explore people’s lives, thoughts, values and experiences. The series interview folks from diverse backgrounds.
So today, say hello to Rakhshanda Jalil. An author, literary critic and an acclaimed translator of classic works, she often shares her baking experiments as well as reading experiences with friends on Facebook. These days, she is coping with coronavirus-induced isolation in her lovely central Delhi residence with her husband and two daughters. “I have inverted my circadian rhythm in these days of lockdown; I sleep during the day and am up all night reading, watching Netflix and Amazon and reminiscing, mostly about a fun-filled childhood with my siblings.” For the first time in a very long time, she says, she is doing absolutely no writing, not even translation. “Oh, yes, I am also losing a lot of friends … to the virus of communalism.”
Your favorite virtue or the principal aspect of your personality
They are two different things. To answer the latter, without doubt, it is to be loved unconditionally by those closest to me
Your favorite qualities in a man
Your favorite qualities in a woman
Your chief characteristic
I bounce back and find something to do
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
When they stand by me – especially when I am down and out
Your main fault
Quick to judge, quicker to get angry
Your favorite occupation
Writing, writing, writing
Your idea of happiness
When the thoughts are in full flow, when I have written a para of two of good writing, good by my own standards, that makes me sigh with satisfaction
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
To, God forbid, lose or somehow be distanced from my family
If not yourself, who would you be?
A gardener; to plant seeds in the soil, watch them sprout and grow is the greatest marvel
Where would you like to live?
Ideally, in a cottage in the hills with a little patch of a garden; But I guess I am doomed to live in this benighted city.
Your favourite colour and flower
Favourite colour: red
I love the narcissus for their delicate beauty and tremulous fragrance. They come to us in Delhi for a very short while tied in bunches with a bit of a twine. Called Nargis in Urdu, they are a popular trope in Urdu poetry and used as a simile for the seeing eye (nargisi ankhein). And then there are the divine nargis kofte too: hardboiled eggs wrapped in mince, cut open and served in a flavoursome gravy. Sublime!
Your favorite bird
Sunbird; it is quick and agile, I love the way the sun glints off its small, shiny, compact body.
Your favorite prose authors
The Urdu writer Intizar Husain – for the way he fashioned stories, the expressions and idioms he used culled from what was once a real, spoken Urdu and a living literary culture, and the fact that he has single-handedly crafted a new literary sensibility.
Your favorite poets
Oh, too many but chiefly, in English: T. S. Eliot. W. B. Yeats, John Keats; and in Urdu: Faiz, Iqbal, Ghalib, Mir and from recent times Shahryar and Zehra Nigah
Your favorite heroes in fiction
Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey; not for the wars he fought but the adventures he had on his way home!
Your favorite heroines in fiction
Alice from Alice in Wonderland… nothing fazed her ever! She refused to be either daunted or depressed, took every strange occurrence in her stride, and remained cheerful and, more importantly, curious and questioning all through her adventures.
Your favorite composers
I have been listening rather a lot to the Sabri brothers recently
Your favorite painters
Amrita Sher-Gill, Frida Kahlo and I absolutely adore A Ramachandran and his ‘Lotus pond’ series.
Your heroes/heroines in real life
Jawaharlal Nehru: there is nothing not to like in the man. I admire his erudition, his humanity, his elegance, his leadership and most importantly his writings – be it his big books or the letters and notes he wrote even to the most casual of acquaintances or virtual stranger. Also, Dr Rashid Jahan whose biography I wrote: a feminist writer, activist, doctor, a complete human being.
What characters in history do you most dislike?
Hitler rather obviously but all those kings and emperors as well as modern-day politicians and leaders who foolishly, and proudly, rushed into wars that caused thousands to die as collateral damage.
Your heroines in World history
The British suffragettes who fought for the most basic of rights for women: the right to vote
Your favorite food and drink
Paratha with aam ka achar; coconut water
Your favorite names
Tara, Ali, Benazir
What do you hate the most?
The military event you admire the most
Cannot ever admire a military event; the idea of military intervention goes against everything I hold dear. There is no nobility or glory in war.
The reform you admire the most
Reforms in the Anti-Dowry Act introduced in the early 1980s; any unnatural death of a woman within seven years of marriage merits an investigation
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with
How do you wish to die?
In my own home, and as painlessly as possible. Just as the Believer has been promised death, like fragrance leaving the flower – as an aunt told me by way of solace when my father passed away suddenly sitting in his favourite armchair, talking to my mother.
What is your present state of mind?
Anguished. I see images of the indigent and migrant taking the long walk home, and I am sick at heart. There are two Indias peopled with those who can afford social distancing, stock up on groceries and sanitisers and those who can’t; those who can stand on their balconies and clang thalis and blow conches and those who are marooned on highways with no food or shelter.
Faults for which you have the most tolerance
Your motto in life
Be the Change
Into the citizen’s heart