Austen or else


From intellectual discourse to intellectual intercourse

This week Karachi will host its annual literature festival. This year the world is celebrating the 200th year of publication of Jane Austen’s comedy Pride and Prejudice. My dear Pakistani readers, I’m using this column to invite you all to an initiative that I’m starting in Delhi – provided you get the Indian visa for Delhi! Now, hold on to your tea cup and listen to me.

It is such happiness when good people get together – and they always should. Every Pakistani is invited along with my fellow Delhiwallas to join the Jane Austen Society Club. I’m launching it next week. The only condition for the membership being that you must have read all six Jane Austen novels at least six times each.

Each Sunday evening, after completing their purchases in Daryaganj’s Sunday Book Bazaar, Jane Austen admirers will gather in front of Urdu Bazaar and sit on the Jama Masjid stairs.

Over doodh-waali chai and biskut, we will read excerpts from Jane Austen’s novels. There will also be a guest of honour at each meet. For instance, firangi backpackers from the unsanitary bowels of Paharganj will be invited to share how Delhi belly keeps them “in a continual state of inelegance” while residents of north Delhi may complain of snobbish south Delhi’s myopic belief that their Delhi is the only Delhi (ah, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”).

The Jane Austen Society will also be a platform for young people to share their delights and disappointments. After all, whether you are from the fashionable Vasant Kunj or from the cheapside of Vikas Puri, you must like “to be crossed in love a little now and then.” The Jane Austen Society, it is hoped, will “certainly be the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”

The Jane Austen Society will conduct walking tours in the city where you may pretend to be strolling on the verdant grounds of England, and not the sunny smoggy steamy lanes of Delhi. You can also hop by landmarks like Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib’s final haveli in Ballimaran and recite his verses as passionately as Marianne Dashwood recited Shakespeare’s in Sense and Sensibility.

At the end of each meet, the members will, of course, be given a few minutes to speculate on the weather the following Sunday.

However, my dear reader, in case if you think Jane Austen is shallow and you are profound, you should still consider getting a visa to Delhi. If you are fond of books, you have to visit BP Road. Shh, this is strictly between us.

Next to Ajmeri Gate in the Walled City, BP Road is the thinking man’s Heera Mandi. It attracts Delhi’s booklovers starving for intellectual intercourse with the opposite sex and willing to pay for it.

While pirated thrillers are stacked everywhere, the regular customers know that these stores are just a front for the ‘trade’. Book-ies will escort you behind the bookshelves, to winding staircases that lead to first-floor cells. These are the dens where many a young men from south Delhi’s most distinguished families ruined their lives and finished their fortunes.

One cold evening last week I went to the area’s most popular cell – no. 9-3/4. A covered veranda was lined with shelves containing Penguin classics. The ladies of the house were sitting on red velvet sofas, chatting, reading, and waiting for customers. Their asking price depended on the authors they specialised in. The lowest (50 Rs) was for those who analysed, compared, critiqued and evaluated the popular appeal of Chetan Bhagat novels in ten-minute long sessions, very popular with bank cashiers. A little pricier were sittings with the English Honours graduates (1st div.), famous for guiding you through the essays of Susan Sontag and Edward Said.

The pretentious opt for slim cigar-smoking girls especially trained to read out the Greek classics – provocatively.

If you are rich, you can get any author.

For 10,000 Rs, you have a lady reciting the entire John Milton and Mirza Ghalib from memory. For 25,000 Rs, bookaholic brunettes lend you their rare editions for a day; for 50,000 Rs, you have a PhD scholar explain Amartya Sen in two hours flat; for 75,000 Rs, you land up with a busty white Ukrainian trained in ripping apart William Dalrymple’s pulp-fictions; for 1,00,000 Rs, you are sold a dinner date with that Tina Brown look-alike who got her poem published in The New Yorker’s Oct. 13, 2011 issue.

And if your father is a feudal lord in Punjab or have connections with ISI, you can afford a brain-with-a-babe to come over to your Gulbarg pad in Lahore and discuss any topic – Euro crisis, Arundhati Roy, or the Taliban.

And yes, until this year’s end, anything on Jane Austen will come for free.

Mayank Austen Soofi lives in a library. He has one website and four blogs. The website address: The blogs: Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, Reading Arundhati Roy and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos


  1. bring your club here to Lahore and we'll give you all of the same…provided of course that you get that visa to Lahore 🙂
    the idea of enjoying Pride and Prejudice in either surrounding is fantastic!

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