Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – R. Sivapriya, Freedom Fighters Enclave
The Proustian self-introspection.
[By The Delhi Proustians]
The Proust Questionnaire represents a form of interview that owes its structure to answers given by French novelist Marcel Proust, the author of In Search of Lost Time, at two birthday parties that he attended at ages 13 and 20 in the late 19th century.
In early 2013, The Delhi Proustians started taking Les confidences de salon (Drawing room confessions) around the city to explore people’s lives, thoughts, values and experiences. The series involves interviews across Delhi and is conducted by writers Manika Dhama and Mayank Austen Soofi.
For the fourteenth installment of Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire, R. Sivapriya, widely acknowledged as one of India’s most perceptive literary editors, made confessions to Mayank at her home in south Delhi’s Freedom Fighters Enclave.
Your favorite virtue or the principal aspect of your personality
Attentiveness and temperance are the virtues I try to cultivate — to limited success
Your favorite qualities in a man
Those would be intelligence and kindness and civility
Your favorite qualities in a woman
Intelligence and kindness and civility
Your chief characteristic
Bookishness and along with it a capacity for solitude
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
That I find ease and pleasure in their company
Your main fault
A lack of temperance
Your favorite occupation
Your idea of happiness
Small pleasures — a view of the Qutub on my way to work, the yummy taste of beer, Anand clowning idiotically and making me laugh, a good story, a delicious meal, an interesting yoga sequence. The list is long
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
Paperwork of any kind is sheer misery. I hate doing it. As to great misfortune, there are so many ways in which the body and the psyche can be harmed! I don’t dwell on it
If not yourself, who would you be?
An academic, I think
Where would you like to live?
By the seaside
Your favourite colour and flower
I love colours and have no favourites that I know of. Flowers that evoke an emotional response are the jasmine, the Indian rose (dusty pink with a heavenly fragrance, too delicate to last beyond a day), the oleander. These are the flowers of my childhood and of the Tamil country. In Delhi, I love the harsingar in early winter and laburnum in midsummer
Your favorite bird
Sunbirds of all kinds — so exquisite and with the sweetest chirps. I like parakeets — their brilliant green colour and cheery chatter always bring brightness to a grim winter day in Delhi
Your favorite prose authors
I am listing a mix of new discoveries and old loves:
Jose Saramago consistently for a very long time; The History of the Siege of Lisbon and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ are major signposts for me
Recently I’ve become smitten with Vikram Chandra. I read The Mirrored Mind and then devoured Love and Longing in Bombay and Red Earth and Pouring Rain. I’ve just begun on Sacred Games
Naiyer Masud — truly extraordinary
Donna Leon — never a false note
A number of Terry Prachett’s Discworld novels for their wit and wisdom
The wonderful, acute Ambai, and the astute, humane and elegant Perumal Murugan in Tamil
I am in the middle of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and it is magnificent. I plan to read everything else by him after finishing the novel
There was a time — for about five years — when I was reading something or the other by Sebald at any given point of time. Vertigo is my favourite
I read Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Shame, and Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude at least a dozen times in my late teens. They opened worlds in mind
Your favorite poets
On the whole I don’t read much poetry. Of the little I read:
Shrikant Verma’s Magadh in Rahul Soni’s translation has been haunting me since I read it a few months ago. I will keep going back to it for a while to come. Certainly for as long as I live in Delhi. It seems to me it is the Great Delhi Poem
Adrienne Rich — I keep going back to a particular poem of hers, ‘Transcendental Etude’
Tamil Sangam poetry in the English of many translators
Your favorite heroes in fiction
No one in particular
Your favorite heroines in fiction
Granny Weatherwax in Terry Prachett’s discworld novels — she’s my heroine
Your favorite composers
Your favorite painters
For now Nainsukh, thanks to B N Goswamy’s richly insightful book on the painter. I’ve instinctively loved Bhupen Khakkar from my first encounter of his work — The Man with Plastic Flowers at the NGMA in Delhi — more than a decade ago. Though there is no question about sculptors I’d like to mention the unknown masters who made the sculptures of Mamallapuram — imbued with power and so full of beauty. I never tire of going to them. The stories they tell feel absolutely immediate. I particularly love the two reliefs that face each other in the Mahishamardini cave on top of the hillock, featuring the dynamic Durga on one wall and the slumbering Vishnu on the other, and the Somaskanda panel within the cave; and the mindboggling, amazing panorama of ‘Descent of the Ganga’ in the open air. The Qutub Minar in Delhi is staggeringly pretty. I’ve been Mandu once and long to go back to the caravan sarais, the tombs and palaces. It is enchantingly lovely
Your heroes/heroines in real life
What characters in history do you most dislike?
Your heroines in World history
Your favorite food and drink
Green chilli is my true favourite — it is food to me, and I never get bored of the dosa; beer is my favourite drink
Your favorite names
None. I do have a vague fondness for the names of the Apostles
What do you hate the most?
Messiness — it irritates me but I also envy those who revel in it
The military event you admire the most
The reform you admire the most
I’ve never thought about it. But I am glad to be born in this time and in this place — so I’m grateful for all that had led to the here and now. The good outweighs the bad though that is not enough
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with
To be able to sing!
How do you wish to die?
Aware and alert to the end, of the end, I think
What is your present state of mind?
I am amused. The idea of putting any information on myself out there usually makes me queasy. And here I am trotting out all kinds of stuff
Faults for which you have the most tolerance
As I grow older I notice myself becoming more tolerant of most human foibles in others and in myself
Your motto in life
I have no motto
Diving deep within, like Marcel