Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – Craft Activist Laila Tyabji, Shanti Niketan
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 brings 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, say hello to Laila Tyabji. As a craft activist, she has been a long-time chairperson at Dastkar where she has been working with more than a lakh craftspeople from across the country. An alumnus of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, and Toshi Yoshida Academy of Art, Tokyo, Ms Tyabji was born a few months before India became independent in 1947. She lives in a book-lined home in south Delhi’s Shanti Niketan.
Your favorite virtue or the principal aspects of your personality
Creativity, independence, a response to colour and beauty, objectivity, and a sometimes misplaced sense of humour
Your favourite qualities in a man
Integrity, warmth, intellect, sense of humour
Your favourite qualities in a woman
Your chief characteristic
That sense of humour that often gets me into trouble
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
An ability to see another point of view – and to see a joke
Your main fault
Impatience with slowness and stupidity
Your favourite occupation
A free day with a delightful new book and a box of delectable gaz from Isfahan. But this could be boring if not interspersed with days working with craftswomen, crafting something beautiful together
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
To be stuck somewhere with nothing to read, sharing a loo with 50 other unknown people
If not yourself, who would you be?
A lotus-eating dilettante with an air ticket to the world
Where would you like to live?
London – pre-Brexit
Your favourite colour and flower
Green. Roses, because they have such diverse shapes and colours. And they also smell delicious which is a bonus
Your favourite bird
Not really a bird person, but do find penguins delightfully mad and funny
Your favourite prose authors
Too many to list
Your favourite poets
Depends on my mood. Could be Edward Lear, could be Mary Sarton, could be Larkin, Vikram Seth or Dylan Thomas
Your favourite heroes in fiction
Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch, and (as an unashamed romantic) I do love the men in Georgette Heyer and Anuja Chauhan novels
Your favourite heroines in fiction
Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Jo March in Little Women. Any one wild, tempestuous, and opinionated, but also loving
Your favourite composers
Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann
Your favourite painters
Amrita Shergill, Cezanne, Braque, Nainsukh and the other Pahari miniature painters of his time
Your heroes/heroines in real life
Gandhi, who must have been exasperating to live with, but who set such clear uncompromising directions for this complex country. And in the present day, the Dalai Lama and the Pope: who speak little, wisely, and to the point, and practice what they preach
What characters in history do you most dislike?
Hitler obviously, and Trump, who will hopefully soon be history, and similar bumptious, insensitive, overbearing types closer to home, with cruelty inbuilt in them
Your heroines in World history
Those quiet women who mothered good men, and whom we never hear about
Your favourite food and drink
I love caviar, champagne and lobster and all that stuff, but equally love daal, bhelpuri, naryal pani, and fresh new peas. And cold iced water is the BEST drink.
What do you hate the most?
Well, evil of course, but on a day-to-day basis, pomposity
The military event you admire the most
I abhor violence, and don’t think that killing, even in a good cause, is justified. So it’s Satyagraha I celebrate
The reform you admire the most
Abolition of Sati
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with
I would love to sing! Or (if we are talking fantasy) fly. In my dreams I often fly – not very high, just over the trees; observing things, but free
What is your present state of mind?
Deeply anxious about the state and directions of the nation. But with hope too
Faults for which you have the most tolerance
Lack of self confidence, which I suffered from all through my youth. And envy, since in such an unequal society how can some not envy others
Your motto in life
I vacillate between ‘Each to his Own’ and ‘Take Each Day as it Comes’
How do you wish to die?
Quietly, in my sleep, but with three days warning, so I can tidy my cupboards
Into the citizen’s heart