It was the hype of Dev Benegal’s Road Movie that directed me to Upamanayu Chatterjee’s English August, passing across Benegal’s edgy and spiced –up ‘Split Wide Open’.
Since the movie prints had been ruined somehow, the only way to experience what fascinated Benegal’s mind was to buy a copy of the novel. It is interesting to note that Benegal’s features have always been based upon Chatterjee’s novels, which have a unique style in them, which I was supposed to explore.
Being not much of an avid reader, and belonging to the Chetan Bhagan class of readership, English August was a difficult read, more because of its content and less because of its language. The content, which deals with Agastya Sen (the protagonist of the novel if you can call him one), is surely a slow paced, in depth study of Agastya Sen’s lifestyle which in itself is snail-paced to the extent of an exaggerated Godardian traffic jam. (Refer: Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend)
Agastya Sen , an IAS trainee, used to the comforts of metropolitan life, feels low and out-of-place when he is placed in Madna, an over-heated village, which would be something an NRI would be shameful in discussing with his colleagues. Disinterested in the context of his life, his surroundings and even himself, he resorts to senseless masturbation and endless dosage of marijuana to shove some sense into the black hole of his life. To cope up amongst the fat old bureaucrats and make sense of why he should be there at all.
It almost took me a year to finish this novel, but whenever I read it, I ended up being unaware of the surroundings to an extent, where awareness would remain a mere formality. The feeling of aimlessness resonated and began haunting me. It felt as if a spongy stuffing of laziness rested between the two stretched slices of fungi infested bread depicting the severity of the aimlessness.
And yet, I tried to make sense of it, much like Agastya, who kept on making sense of “O Krishna, the mind is restless” from Bhagwad Gita… I tried to associate the “stagnancy” and relate it with “progression”. Make a philosophical cinematic sense out of it. Make Mani Kaul out of it and just like my past attempts bring an abrupt end to what I write.. (to this write-up)