1. Delhi. If I have a home town, it's Delhi: the capital of India for several thousand years, settled as a city since the Mahabharata, built upon itself, layer upon layer, hugely sprawling, crowded, noisy, dusty, but with leafy lanes and huge old trees, full of the contented sleepy rumble of the pigeons and scream of parrots across the sky, sharp-edged with winter frost and glaring summer sun, shrouded in fog and romantic with blue thunderclouds; New Delhi, respectably middle-class, a bureaucrat with black-framed glasses and oiled hair; its family enthusiastically nouveau-riche, while Old Delhi is an impoverished artistocrat, lean, wearing a dhoti and frockcoat, looking back at the days of its greatness and wondering what to do with the gaps in its teeth. I love Delhi, in spite of all the hypocrisy and what-will-people-say and the keeping-up-with-the-Sharmas, which drives me mad every time I'm there. I dream about it, try to write about it, am despairingly incapable of being objective about it. I sometimes wonder if I could ever live there again, (visit, yes, but live?) and at the same time, imagine truly living there, learning all of it, knowing all the history and the forgotten monuments, walking around in the labyrinth of Chandni Chowk without getting lost, mugged or killed. For the most part, I am an outsider wherever I go, and I like it. I am comfortable in that role. But Delhi is the only place that seduces me with the idea of, fitting in, for once, even though I know that it's just an illusion and that to fit in, I would have to change just as much for Delhi, as I would for any other city in the world. The only difference is that Delhi can make me change, if I let it, while none of the others can.
2. Dorothy L. Sayers. Golden age British mystery writer and religious scholar, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and a generally eccentric figure. Gaudy Night is one of my touchstones for academic and intellectual integrity, and was the first book I read that even began to articulate any of my dissatisfaction with the idea of marriage as the ultimate goal for a woman, and for a very long time was the only thing that gave me any hope that not all relationships between the sexes were doomed to be either a case of a) doormat (female) and tyrant (male) or b) cats and dogs spitefully clawing at each other throughout eternity. And all this in some of the best -- most intelligent, witty, moving, cruelly accurate -- prose I've ever read.
3.Dictionaries. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with dictionaries, probably because when I was young I was told to look up spellings in a dictionary, something that's almost impossible to do if you don't already know how to spell. But when I discovered that dictionaries also told you the stories of words as well their spellings, they turned from the only frustrating books in the house to one of the most fascinating. I love discovering the connections between words, and through that, between languages, between religions, cultures and economies. I love the "aha!" feeling of reading something in a language I don't know well and suddenly figuring out what it means because I know how to recognise the root word and think of a derivative in English. The thing that I will miss most about leaving academia is the automatic access to the online Oxford English Dictionary, even though I have, at home, a pocket Latin dictionary, an enormous French one, a standard German one, a pretty awful Hindi-English one, and two much used and battered English ones, both from Oxford University Press.
4. Dappled. This is just a favourite word. I think of it in Hopkins' poem Pied Beauty: the first line is "Glory be to God for dappled things," and then in the Simon and Garfunkle song "I've no deeds to do, no promises to keep/I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep." I wrote the longest paper of my undergraduate career on the poem, and my toes curl in delight at the song, and it's definitely the image of dappled things -- sunlight on the ground, deer, fish swimming through shade, that appeals to me.
5. David Bowie. That voice. The knowing blue eyes. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it outrageous personas. The campness of the music. The sheer androgynous energy of his body language. I usually don't care very much for any of these things on their own, but somehow, if David Bowie is involved, it's a different story, and I have been known to obsessively listen to or watch his music.
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