the literary club


When I moved back to Delhi, friends from Kolkata had introduced me to some common friends in GK1, where I now lived, and they promptly made me feel welcome and part of the group. One of the activities of this group was a literary club-who also brought out a little magazine. Like all such groups of intellectuals, especially if predominantly Bengali, aesthetic and ideological differences-which I suspect had more to do with personalities, caused the group to split. I naturally went with my new friends, and over the next few years-really looked forward to these Sunday deliberations on diverse topics-all to do with the arts and words-and to the next issue of our little magazine, to which I occasionally contributed.

I was missing all this when I moved to Mumbai.  One day, browsing among the old books at Fountain, I picked up an 80s NO1 bestseller, hyped as the Gone With the Winds of the American Midwest-now almost forgotten, called THE LADIES OF THE CLUB. Written by Helen Santmyer, this 1433 pages long faux Victorian novel, is a story of a literary club in a small town in Ohio, from 1868 to 1929 

A  charming novel ,written from the perspective of a few genteel ladies, the founder members of the towns literary club, and through the minutes of the monthly meeting of the club, and the glimpses of the lives of the members in the intervening period, American history is told-as it affects the Midwest. The Civil War is just over-and the returned veterans bring the war to these backwoods. Although women do not have the vote, politics is passionately discussed, as some husbands are deeply involved. Abolitionists,   suffrogates, prohibition, the klan, free trade, race, immigration, socialism, unions, gold standard, all the political and economic issues of the day are commented upon, the economy, society and politics undergoing transformation over time is brought out in their interactions. The changing technology, railways, telephone, motor car, electricity, modern medicine all affect their lives.

The young protagonists, who join on leaving school, grow up, marry, have children of their own, who, in time, take over the club from their parents.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it set me thinking of our little club in Delhi. Politics, society, technology and culture are changing today at a faster pace than ever before. Our children, who occasionally came for the children’s events at the club, -much like the children in the fictional American counterparts- grew up to be teenagers during this period, would one day grow up and perhaps continue the tradition- and the story through the old copies of the little magazine or the blogs of past meetings would be a fantastic record of our times- the macro world reflected in the micro mirror of the little magazine.

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