Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – SM Shafi, New Friends Colony
The parlour confession.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Literature student SM Shafi eats poetry — poetically speaking. He reads poems, he writes poems. In his 20s, he is currently preparing to start his PhD on poet Fakir Mohan Senapati, who wrote in Odia, Mr Shafi’s native language. Sitting in his favourite garden in south Delhi’s New Friends Colony, he gamely became a part of the Proust Questionnaire series in which folks from diverse backgrounds are nudged to make “Parisian parlour confessions”, all to explore the lives and experiences of Delhi’s citizens. He agreed on one condition—all his responses will be based on his passion for poetry.
Your favorite virtue or the principal aspect of your personality
The way I fall in love with this world, which is also the fate of poetry
Your favorite qualities in a man
Selflessness, ability to do good without trying to show it (which is akin to poetry which registers but never shouts), sense of justice
Your favorite qualities in a woman
Same as above. Plus, her intuitive mind, a sacred gift of nature. Poetry is impossible without such a gift. Most of the poems are evidence that either the poet was an ingredient of such an experience or the woman herself was writing it
Your chief characteristic
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
Their readiness to jump onto the street, their carelessness
Your main fault
Forgetfulness, which I enjoy. It renews what I see and eventually things start giving up their guarded secrets and connections, which poetry is comprised of
Your favorite occupation
Gardener of big city parks
Your idea of happiness
Taking bath in a sea or a river with a friend who is equally stunned and silent, to pause the reading for a while because a verse just revealed, affirmed or introduced a truth
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
To not be able to create anything, or people closest to me not knowing that I want to create art
If not yourself, who would you be?
Shakespeare, or anyone who comprehends him instantly and unlimitedly
Where would you like to live?
Beside a pond, with silent neighbours not interested in culture but gossip
Your favourite colour and flower
I’ve no favourite colour. All flowers excite me. Like Theodore Roethke wrote, deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.
Your favorite bird
As a child, I mourned for a peacock. As an adult, I long for swans. So, both of them.
Your favorite prose authors
D H Lawrence, James Joyce, Carl Jung, Sartre
Your favorite poets
Shakespeare, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Cavafy, Kedarnath Singh, Mir Taqi Mir
Your favorite heroes in fiction
Stephen Dedalus (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby), Krishna (Bhagavad Gita), Antoine Roquentin (Nausea), Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye)
Your favorite heroines in fiction
Rosalind (As You Like It), Ellen Olenska (The Age of Innocence), Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire)
Your favorite composers
John Coltrane, Ustad Bismillah Khan, RD Burman, Beghum Akhtar, Himesh Reshammiya
Your favorite painters
Jackson Pollock, Hieronymus Bosch, Modigliani, Keshav Das (of Mughal court), Picasso, Edgar Degas, David Hockney
Your heroes/heroines in real life
My parents, Rudramani Biradar (the owner of Book lovers, Mumbai)
What characters in history do you most dislike?
Your heroines in World history
Joan of Arc, Savitribai Phule, Mahasweta Devi, Sappho
Your favorite food and drink
Fresh Prawns, Black Tea
Your favorite names
Milosz, Kiarostami, Ashbery (you can taste his name), Akhmatova,
What do you hate the most?
Selfishness, and the fact that it comes naturally
The military event you admire the most
I don’t admire any military event. I also hate the fact that there is a category of poets called ‘war poets’
The reform you admire the most
The abolition of Sati
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with
The ability to sing. I believe, one with a bad ear, remains a bad poet. A good poet is an internal singer. A poet restores that dignity of sound to each word which is also the moment when its meaning soars
How do you wish to die?
What is your present state of mind?
That of a cat
Faults for which you have the most tolerance
Faults accrued in love
Your motto in life
“Not that I want to be a god or a hero. Just to change into a tree, grow for ages, not hurt anyone.” – Milosz
The guy who eats poetry