'Do you believe in the virtue of compression?' asked a determined academic lady.
'Well, yes,' said Amit warily. The lady was rather fat.
'Why, then, is it rumoured that your forthcoming novel - to be set, I understand, in Bengal is to be so long? More than a thousand pages!' she exclaimed reproachfully, as if he were personally responsible for the nervous exhaustion of some future dissertationist.
'Oh, I don't know how it grew to be so long,' said Amit. 'I'm very undisciplined. But I too hate long books: the better, the worse. If they're bad, they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes. But if they're good, I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends. I still bear the scars of Middlemarch."
'How about Proust?" asked a distracted-looking lady, who had begun knitting the moment the poems stopped.
Amit was surprised that anyone read Proust in Brahmpur. He had begun to feel rather happy, as if he had breathed in too much oxygen.
'I'm sure I'd love Proust,' he replied, 'if my mind was more like the Sundarbans: meandering, all-absorptive, endlessly, er, sub-reticulated. But as it is, Proust makes me weep, weep, weep with boredom. Weep,' he added. He paused and sighed. 'Weep, weep, weep,' he continued emphatically. 'I weep when I read Proust, and I read very little of him."
There was a shocked silence: why should anyone feel so strongly about anything? It was broken by Professor Mishra.
'Needless to say, many of the most lasting monuments of literature are rather, well, bulky.' He smiled at Amit. 'Shakespeare is not merely great but grand, as it were.'
'But only as it were,' said Amit. 'He only looks big in bulk. And I have my own way of reducing that bulk,' he confided. "you may have noticed that in a typical Collected Shakespeare all the plays start on the right-hand side. Sometimes, the editors bung a picture in on the left to force them to do so. Well, what I do is to take my pen-knife and slit the whole book up into forty or so fascicles. That way I can roll up Hamlet or Timon - and slip them into my pocket. And when I'm wandering around - in a cemetery, say - I can take them out and read them. It's easy on the mind and on the wrists. I recommend it to everyone. I read Cymbeline in just that way on the train here; and I never would have otherwise.'
Kabir smiled, Lata burst out laughing, Pran was appalled, Mr Makhijani gaped and Mr Nowrojee looked as if he were about to faint dead away.
--Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
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