Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Vladimir Nabokov

Falling in love with a dream world that exists only in the mind and the words of a man that I can never hope to meet in my life, who died almost a decade before I was born was the saddest feeling I felt this week. As I once stated, I don’t believe in God. But if I did, he’d be a Russian lepidopterist who weaves ethereal ideas with words. And this wonderful writer, this designer of a million little crystal heavens in each ordinary thing he comes across is the wonderful magician, Vladimir Nabokov. I had read his book, Lolita, two years back but because of the miserable condition I was in then, I wasn’t really concentrating on the delectable sentences, the delicious descriptions and the disgustingly marvelous character of Humbert Humbert. But last year, I re-read Lolita and then there was no turning back. I had fallen into that diabolically enchanting trap; I’ve fallen in love with a life I can never possess, with places that I can never see, with feelings that I am struggling to experience.

Each of his books is a unique world, limpid as a dreamy moonscape, of misty backdrops, endearing characters and such brilliant use of words, metaphors, and portmanteaus - a world so unutterably delicate and fabulous! Just like he chased his elusive butterflies, I chased his hard-to-get books, with the insane fixation of a stalker. After innumerable searches I finally found Pale Fire tucked between two dismissible ‘classics’ in a book shop and purchased it. All the way back I could feel the book’s gentle weight in my bag urging me to feel its cover, smell the pages and read..read? No, just sink and drown in that wonderland of words.

After Pale Fire I spent months hunting for his most elusive and most wonderful book - Ada or Ardor. How much I hunted! How I longed! For some reason it was then not even available on online bookstores. Each day, I read up notes, reviews and essays on Ada and at night I dreamt of that paradise that I am yet to attain. I almost cried in frustration when I found that the book was not available even in the fanciest book shop in town. But just as I was about to give up, I found a copy at a bookfair. Oh, the joy! The joy! I could hardly wait to get back to my dingy room. The dust and cobwebs on the wall were replaced by a filigree of coniferous trees through which rays of sun came through, the ground was a bed of wild flowers, myriad butterflies swum around me in the air flecked with sunshine, my bed turned into a sepia tinted attic in which two adorable children lolled about discovering more about each other, sighing with pleasures and agonies that they stumbled upon too early in their lives and the very air filled with their love, oh, that love! Its sheer aesthetic marvel fades everything else in comparison. I forgot time, I forgot the shabby reality buzzing around me and when I resurfaced I felt like I’ve been thrown out of Eden. I can read Ada or Ardor over and over and over, I’ve read each page atleast 3 times, drooled over the lines, underlined them, tagged them, read them aloud, wrote them down, mused, smiled and cried reading them, turned them into sun-catchers, into post-it notes, scrawled them over my wall, dreamt about them and even tried to live that sublimity. It has the two most charming, enviable and mad characters ever. I’ve eaten, slept, journeyed and died with this book a hundred times over.

The other books suddenly became easier to procure. By chance I came across Laughter in the Dark, Pnin, The Luzhin Defence, Annotated Lolita, King Queen Knave and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and for the last three months I’ve been reading them. Never have I read anything with such obsessive passion as I’ve read Nabokov’s works. I’ve collected everything that I could get, spending my meager, dwindling salary on imported editions and second-hand books. I also managed to get his Collected Stories, a huge volume of stories that took me two weeks to finish but which was totally worth it. Today I finished reading his astounding autobiography, Speak, Memory – a slow, gliding journey into this fascinating man’s mind, to his fairy-tale like childhood, his years of exile which he spend wandering chasing ideas and butterflies. It was like sitting atop a rainbow butterfly while it fluttered over gauzy dandelions, soft ferns dripping with sparkling dew and over countless colourful vegetation before crossing a madly laughing stream into a mossy forest of creepers with scented petals floating all around you.
My journey into this timeless world has only begun, I’ve dug and dug and discovered all that I could find about Nabokov’s life. There is still many more of his books out there, evading my grasp like his butterflies once eluded him. For some reason, his admirers are few and his works are hardly available in shops. Books about him are rarer still. After much consternation I’ve finally ordered Nabokov’s Ada: The Palace of Consciousness via flipcart. A very expensive book in my standards, but something that I need as much as an addict needs cocaine. In the coming months I hope to get more books, but all this won’t be the same as being able to, at least once, meet this amazing man which I know is an impossible dream. But if I do meet him, I'll fall at his feet whispering "you are God"