Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – Irish Ambassador Brendan Ward, Bloomsday Special!
The parlour confession.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Thálatta! Thálatta! It’s June 16, the date on which the entire Ulysses is set. The novel by James Joyce is considered among the literature’s greatest modernist masterpieces. Today, Ulysses fans worldwide will celebrate Bloomsday, so named after Leopold Bloom, the novel’s protagonist. The book mostly consists of the characters walking the streets of Ireland capital Dublin. Naturally we convinced Irish ambassador, the Dublin-born Brendan Ward, to become a part of our Proust Questionnaire series in which citizens are nudged to make “Parisian parlour confessions”, all to explore our distinct experiences. (Oh yes, this evening His Excellency is throwing a Bloomsday party at his residence!)
Your favorite virtue or the principal aspect of your personality.
I think hypocrisy is somewhat underrated and it is, of course, the homage which vice pays to virtue. I am sure, given the nature of my job, that there are elements of it in my personality.
Your favorite qualities in a man.
A willingness to acknowledge being wrong or mistaken is quite uncommon among men and I admire it when I encounter it.
Your favorite qualities in a woman.
Confidence and an awareness of her own worth and that of women generally. We are still a long way from complete equality of the sexes in both Ireland and India.
Your chief characteristic.
I would like to think that it is openness to new experiences, people and ideas. In a few months, I shall be taking up the ninth foreign post of my career so I think this is rather an important quality.
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
Their willingness to put up with me and mostly, overlook my faults.
Your main fault.
An intolerance of ignorant or uneducated people and a tendency to let the intolerance show.
Your favorite occupation.
I enjoy reading while listening to music more than any other activity.
Your idea of happiness.
Spending unhurried time with friends in congenial surroundings over a meal or drinks.
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
I have a horror of sport in general so having to watch a game of any kind is an experience I dread. I make an exception for cricket since the catering is usually very good.
If not yourself, who would you be?
I am fairly happy being myself, which may surprise people. If not myself, I think I would like to be a writer or a dramatist.
Where would you like to live?
I have lived in nine countries so far and generally felt at home in all of them. If I couldn’t live in my home city of Dublin, my second choice would probably be the Austrian capital, Vienna where I lived for over five years.
Your favourite colour and flower.
My favourite colour is blue and while I love all flowers my favourite is probably the daffodil. In Ireland, its appearance indicates the end of winter.
Your favorite bird.
I feel like I should say something exotic or magnificent, but my first pet when I was four was a budgie and I have always had a very soft spot for them since.
Your favorite prose authors.
Obviously, I should say James Joyce, but though I found “Ulysses” a wonderful experience, I couldn’t say he is a favourite. Proust, from whom this questionnaire comes, was also a wonderful experience. The unexpected comic scenes in “Remembrance of Things Past” are a joy. My favourite novel is “Vanity Fair” by Kolkata born W.M. Thackeray and I think my favourite nonfiction writer is probably the Irish essayist Hubert Butler.
Your favorite poets.
I have to give credit to W.B. Yeats, our national poet. I am also a great admirer of the sonnets of Shakespeare. There is one for every possible mood.
Your favorite heroes in fiction.
As a boy I was very taken with the rigorous intellect of Sherlock Holmes. Knowing what Dublin is like, I also have a lot of time for Leopold Bloom.
Your favorite heroines in fiction.
Probably Becky Sharpe in “Vanity Fair”. She is a terrible person in every respect, but she embodies the qualities that I said I admire in a woman. I am afraid that neither my heroes nor heroines are very heroic.
Your favorite composers.
I enjoy classical music and opera very much. The music of J.S. Bach has a purity, which I admire. Of course, I also admire contemporary composers and find Philip Glass wonderful.
Your favorite painters.
I love the work of Piet Mondrian for its rigour, but I also have a weakness for the paintings of Fragonard for their hedonistic quality.
Your heroes/heroines in real life.
Volodomyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine and the brave men and women fighting for the freedom of that country are the heroes of our age.
What characters in history do you most dislike?
There are numerous historical figures to hate, but dislike is a milder emotion. Is there any point in disliking an historical figure? I could say I dislike Julius Caesar since I had to study his “Gallic Wars” in my Latin classes at school.
Your heroines in World history.
In history as in life, women get far too little recognition. I admire Mary Wollstonecraft, the early feminist writer and Harriet Tubman the American abolitionist and activist.
Your favorite food and drink.
My favourite food is cheese. I love Irish, English and French cheeses in particular. I am a wine lover and my career has taken me to many countries producing excellent, but little known wines such as Argentina, Croatia, Lebanon and Austria. Indian wine has also been an interesting experience.
Your favorite names.
The names that mean most to me are names common in my own family like Lawrence, James, Leo, Lukas and Elizabeth, Catherine, Rachel for girls. I like the way Indians give the names of Gods to their children.
What do you hate the most?
Hate is a very strong and negative word. It excludes the possibility of reconciliation or improvement. I try to limit myself to disliking things and people.
The military event you admire the most.
The D-Day landings in France on 6 June 1944.
The reform you admire the most.
The abolition of colonial empires and the emergence of independent States, including Ireland, across the globe.
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with.
My sisters and most of my nieces and nephews are competent and in some cases, excellent musicians. I wish that I had comparable musical ability.
How do you wish to die?
Painlessly would be good and of course, at an advanced age, but not so advanced that I am totally decrepit.
What is your present state of mind?
Slightly agitated as I begin preparation to leave India and move to my next post in Romania, but with a slight tinge of pre-nostalgia for what I shall be leaving here.
Faults for which you have the most tolerance.
Laziness and greed, in moderation of course, since they are two faults I recognize in myself.
Your motto in life.
Tomorrow is another day.