I always wanted to join a book club. And I finally did. It was an interesting group and in the interesting part of the town too. The intellectual part of the town where the rich and intelligent lived. Because you can't be intellectual if you are not rich. A poor man can't afford to be an intellectual. In fact it was the only book club on google search and seemed relatively good with a web page, a goodreads profile, a blog, a FB page and a formal organiser. Though it was 1.5 hours of journey (yes that's how city people calculate distances) from where I lived, I still went.
I just wanted to read, to explore more books, to discover new genres, to figure out if people felt the same or a totally different view point. For me the magic of words was most powerful. Though I was careless with mine but those of others especially written took me into another world, where I saw characters and plots coming to life. I was an audience, narrator and sometimes a part. I dreamt of them, I tried to understand them, their natures, their emotions, their motives, their past, their dreams, their relations and their opinions. I loved to talk about books, to have conversations and discussions, about interpretations, of books, of authors, of situations, of plots, of beginnings, of dialogues, of characters and their relations, and how they make us feel.
The first visit is anyways awkward you trying to fit in or to find a place. To connect or have common interests. Yes the basic premise was books and that should have been enough, but it doesn't happen like that. Others things or similarities come to solidify relations. The club members had a significant history probably a few years. They had outdoor and out of town book club meetings and had their families known to each other. I was an outsider a misfit and I knew that. But book love kept me going.
The book club discussed a range of books from Fifty shades of grey to Testament of Mary (where former was not even a monthly official read) to upcoming Indian authors to American diaspora. The host tried to lead the discussion but it was mostly free flowing. They had ratings on a scale of one to ten with the justification and if you had been to even one club meeting, you could predict who will rate how. The intellectual looking rated low as they judged a book with the ability to challenge their grey cells whereas there were others who would just enjoy getting tickled by the author and hence generous in rating. Most of them were well read and when I say well read it doesn't mean reading the complete Harry Potter series or the bunch of comic books you read as a child. Well read as in they have gone through the English classics, dissected Shakespeare, read to their children Alice and the wonderland and Where the wild things are, and debated Ayan Rand and George Orwell's idealogies. Yes those kind of authors!
There were those who always finished books while others still struggled, there were wise and novice, there were young and old, there were male and female stereotypes, there were thorough Indian and the well traveled, there were teachers and students, there were talkative and silent, there were outspoken and reserved, there were talkers and listeners and there was a lot of drama. book club also seemed like a book where you hear the conversations, understand the characters and interpret the undercurrents and the unsaid. There was a story in fact many stories and many characters.
There were all sorts of people the self proclaimed intellectuals, the smart rich bored housewives whose husbands were busy working, students who tried to ape adult stuff, confused working class who found comfort and creative stimulation in books and on-off some new people - the foreigner who wanted to understand and accept Indian culture, psychology students who thought if nothing else it would be a good psycho analysis exercise, the comic book aficionado, and many more.
There were interesting discussions accompanied by vine and snacks, followed by a main course. A thorough formal affair which would shame a British high society hostess. In retrospect I feel I should have gifted vine instead of juices and should have gifted more often. Once there was a big issue about food and Kavi wrote to entire group reproaching them for not RSVPing if they were not attending as the organiser went thru all the pains and the wastage of food.
I was there for the particular club meeting. There were less number of attendees and it was a cosy affair with everyone getting a fair amount of listening. As usual I talked too much and in my fourth visit itself I offered my own home as a venue which was met with a pause and back to conversation.
I am awkward and clumsy in certain situations as I talked too much always. A friend once told me that I had a foot and mouth disease, you get it. Actually he was a crush of mine, imagine me liking someone who said this and other mean but humorous things about me. I think that's my Punjabi girl version of Rachael green.
Always confused and trying to prove myself. Trying to get out and to make a point about something to someone or mostly herself. To push away from her past, Joint families, house wives and kitchen chronicles. Instead go work and make a living. She has built a home and acquired dreams and desires. She has hobbies from others which she wanted in herself.. Reading traveling, home decorating and painting, blogging and photography. She developed her own interests in writing and gardening, making scrap books and collages. She grew nostalgic about home but was falling in love with her own handcrafted world.
She was trying to prove herself even in the book club. By having an opinion on everything and anything, by trying to finish all the prescribed books, by making mental notes in books and authors to read about them, to be courteous and follow the book club decorum. She wasn't sure if they understood her efforts to be part of the group. The effort she took to come there all the way trying to make an evening out if it by visiting Prithvi on her way. The cafe and the book shop were marvellous even though she couldn't catch a play. What a collection of Hindi classics and a quirky set of people. My other love is walking the streets the old crowded ones sometimes getting lost in them and sometime finding something on empty ones. They have more character than anything.
I met a comic aficionado there and that too Hindi ones. Most people who had a North Indian childhood have grown up on doses of diamond and raj comics from Nagraj to Supandi. We discussed the upcoming comic con and the cosplay. He had gone last year as Chacha Chowdhury and suggested I should become Shikari Shambhu. He was someone's cousin from the book club but he too was a misfit, talkative and over smart. after initially impressing the middle aged ladies of the group who didn't mind a decent looking man to talk to, he got into the hands of the group's gunda Chatterjee.
Chatterjee had a cheeky humor and he could easily rip you and your opinions apart. He was the guy you could put him any side of the debate and he will trample your arguments in a jiffy. And this boy was such an easy target with his good boy looks and talks. He mocked the guy in his smart yet subtle way. The middle aged ladies figured the match of wits and exchanged naughty looks with him requesting him to stop. Once they realised the boy a father of two was no match for Chatterjee, left the rescue mission and started enjoying it instead. Her cousin watched and decided that next time he is not getting her dumb Hindi comic lover brother. How dare he suggested a local useless budding writer who came to his third grade bschool to address students. Didn't he know people here do not even acknowledge a Chetan Bhagat. In the next meeting they all discussed how Chatterjee squashed the boy's spirit last time and few others in earlier sessions.
The organiser was an ordinary looking woman with two kids married to an IITian working in a big corporate. I think she didn't realise when she grew old while reading all those books as a child. The criteria of friendships was the book love and it worked for her. She made a book club wherever she went on her husbands foreign posted jobs. Over the years she had made friends and family finding common conversations on books. She was made for reading books and the book club seemed to be the biggest purpose of her life. She was expected to manoeuvre and drive the discussion, but mostly it was self driven. Everyone gave their opinions freely and countered others. She never had a strong opinion, connecting easily with those for and against the books. Probably she was perfect for her role.
The book club changed the venue to a foreign country library. From the cosy warm corner it moved to a crowded stage. From a personal space it became a group discussion. The library supervisor was a loud talkative foreign accented Indian. She kept talking giving and no chance to others. The other main members of book club spoke but the insignificant and late ones didn't get a chance at all. They served sandwiches and tea and invited all the library members too to for the meeting as co-sponsors. There were cheap membership offers to increase their clientele which I too bought but never used. The only condition was that we could only discuss the authors from the particular foreign country. That's like selling yourself. You can criticise or appreciate but only on the sponsored topics. So there was a price for the sandwiches and the tea after all. Anyways I think I was jealous of her, she was living her dream and getting paid for it too.
After that the organiser probably went on her annual foreign holiday and the venues changed and there were no more invites. Probably it was a miss from my side or the inviter but I was not going there anymore.
Now I recently joined the local book club in my society. From BBC to NBC (Nehru book club). From sobo (South Bombay) to suba (suburb). I had once put up a colourful attractive notice for forming one but no one responded. This one came from the group email of society members which my husband is a member of. He fwded me and I contacted the initiator. There was a whatsapp group for NBC unlike a FB page and website of BBC. We had one meeting and five of us in attendance. It was very abrupt and uncoordinated with two of them coming with their kids, one so silent, one off and on reader, one full time mother, one talkative compulsive hassled with kids and a grumbling sad man.
But clearly we all loved books. After talking a wide variety of books which I had no clue of from chiclit to non fiction, from Murakami to Robert Ludlum, the tastes were so different. I had not a single common book, author and genre with others. Post book discussion there was some gossip of society managing committee and it's politics which I had never shown any interest in my four years of living here. But gossip is gossip it helps sometimes to break ice.
I was doubtful about the kind of books first but then I thought why not. It's all about discovering new genres and literature. Some good some bad but it will be an interesting journey. Just read and read and do nothing else. May be I will find new books, authors, even friends, some moments and great conversations. I don't think I will feel too awkward in a place for book lovers. What a fairy tale life! She loved some people and some books and they lived happily ever after!