Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Sheniz Janmohamed

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July 1, 2012 -

Sheniz Janmohamed is Open Book's July 2012 Writer in Residence. In her answer to the Proust Questionnaire, Sheniz tells us about the colour of Kenya's soil, her current state of mind and the scent of lavender and jasmine.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

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What is your dream of happiness?
To be happy.

What is your idea of misery?
Not being able to do what I love.

Where would you like to live?
Ideally, Kenya or Jaipur, India. Realistically, somewhere where I can see trees outside my window and still visit cafes and bookstores in the city.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Strength, kindness, intelligence, determination, spirit.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Strength, kindness, intelligence, determination, spirit

What is your chief characteristic?
I hope it would be resilience, but I think it’s best for those who know me to answer that question.

What is your principal fault?
Not being able to let go easily.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Coffee & books.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Ignorance. It is more blissful, after all.

What do you value most about your friends?
Their kindness, support and talent.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Apathy.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Comparing myself to others.

What is your favourite virtue?
Compassion.

What is your favourite occupation?
Traveling.

What would you like to be?
A full-time writer (minus the starving part).

What is your favourite colour?
I have memories associated with different colours. They all have their brilliance. The best way to sum up how I feel about colour is to take a look at an opal, or an abalone shell. Or Kenya’s red soil.

What is your favourite flower?
From the birthplace of my parents: Jacaranda, Bougainvillea. For the scents that have stayed with me: Lilac and Jasmine.

What is your favourite bird?
I’ve been seeing a lot of crows lately. A good omen for me.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Mansur-al-Hallaj. 

What character in history do you most dislike?
The human race has done too many atrocious things to choose one person.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Jorge Luis Borges for his short prose, particularly The Library of Babel, Jean-Paul Sartre for Nausea, Gurdjieff for Meetings with Remarkable Men, Emerson, Amitav Kumar for Bombay-London-New York and Passport Photos, Nazneen Sheikh for Tea and Pomegranates, M.G Vassanji for A Place Within.

Who are your favourite poets?
Never ask a poet this question, the list never ends. Here are a few: T.S Eliot, Carl Sandburg, Agha Shahid Ali, Mirza Ghalib, Rishma Dunlop, Kuldip Gill, Robert Frost, Kabir, Yeats, Emerson, Rumi, Saadi, Hafez, Yunus Emre, Bulleh Shah... the list continues.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
I think the people who create fictional heroes are the real heroes.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My Mom, my late Grandfather.

Who is your favourite painter?
I have many. Some: Edward Hopper, Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Susan Seddon Boulet, and the illustrations of Edmund Dulac.

Who is your favourite musician?
Right now, I’m listening to Coke Studio (an amazing collaborative music series from Pakistan), and I’d have to say that those musicians are currently on my “favourite” list (check out previous seasons too). My playlist is eclectic- Ziggy Marley, Johnny Clegg, Arieb Azhar, Saieen Zahoor, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Shye Ben Tzur. I love the lyricism of K-os & Saul Williams. There are a lot of local artists that I admire and respect too.

What is your favourite food?
Right now, I’m craving roasted maize dusted with pili pili from a road side seller in Nairobi.

What is your favourite drink?
It’s a toss up between a hot cup of coffee or a hot cup of masala chai.

What are your favourite names?
If I tell you, you’ll steal my characters’ names.

What is it you most dislike?
The helplessness in knowing you can’t help someone.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
To be a musician in the truest sense of the word.

How do you want to die?
Quickly.

What is your current state of mind?
Contemplative.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Hopefully I have yet to accomplish it. So far, teaching kids spoken word and publishing my first book.

What is your motto?
Depends on where I am in life. T.S Eliot’s line from the Four Quartets is currently a motto for me... “At the still point of the turning world….”

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Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with Canada's literati in this series of interviews on Open Book.

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