July 06, 2020
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My Book of the Century

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My Book of the Century
Abbe Provost's Manon Lescaut is the only book that's touched me to the marrow. 

I was perhaps 14 then. The afternoons in my grand-uncle's library during my summer vacations acquainted me with Turgenev, Anatole France, Flaubert and Varahamihira. 

For the rest of the year, I was in Calcutta with my parents. Translations of Tagore, Sarat Babu and Bankim had entranced me by their moody essence. 

My grand-uncle once said: "You're fortunate to be nourished by three distinctly dissimilar cultures, Malabari, Bengali, and English..." A revered poet and philosopher, he didn't dissuade me from reading Havelock Ellis or Bhasa. Even Dandin's erotic plays weren't banned. 

Varaha-Samhita to Tagore wasn't a great leap. 

Manon Lescaut let me into the magical secrets of love. For months I walked in a daze searching for my lover. Did that book wound my life? Did it take me far away from reality? I don't know for certain, I was unmoulded and reshaped by Provost— 

Wipe out the paints
unmould the clay
Let nothing remain
of that yesterday.

(Kamala Das is a writer.)

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