Discover Delhi: Enter the Jane Austen world of Ditza Froim, the Israeli ambassador’s partner
Ditza Froim, spouse of Israeli ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon, singles out Jane Austen’s Emma as her favourite. But she loves Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and Edith Wharton’s Old New York too.delhi Updated: May 02, 2017 13:32 IST
No matter in which foreign capital she settles down, she is always with Marianne Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price and many other gentle people of that charmed circle, including the pathetic Mister Collins.
These are all Jane Austen characters and are beloveds of Ditza Froim. The spouse of Daniel Carmon, the Israeli ambassador to India, she is also Minister Counselor — Public Diplomacy — at the embassy.
Ditza, as she prefers to be called, singles out Austen’s Emma as the one novel she is most partial to. She takes out the handsome hardbound from the shelf and looks at the cover with extreme tenderness.
We are at Ditza’s spacious house in the central parts of the Capital. The sky is burning white-hot but the cool, quiet and shaded world inside is breathing easy.
The bungalow’s grand spiral staircase appears to have jumped straight out of the pages of a Tolstoy epic — one could easily imagine a passionate Anna Karenina running down the stairs too impatient to hold on to the balustrade.
The imposing flight of steps passes by a giant window. Ditza often sits there reading the novel of the day. A corner settee in the drawing room is another favoured reading spot.
Ditza is presently reading three authors including Amitav Ghosh. In her long career in the foreign service, she has lived in Hong Kong, Athens and New York. All three cities have contributed to her book collection.
Each time Ditza moves to a new country, she struggles with the profound dilemma of what books to leave behind at the storage back home in Israel.
Inevitably, the books closest to her heart always move with her. That includes small hardbound editions of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.
Ditza’s other constant loves include Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (“It has to be within reach because you never know when you may need it”), Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals (“In case of emergency when you are feeling down”), Edith Wharton’s Old New York (“Because I love New York”) and Swedish-born physician Axel Munthe’s The Story of San Michele (“I might not touch it for as long as a year but I need to have it with me all the time”).
For few minutes, the soft-spoken Jane Austenite forgets Jane Austen as she tells us dreamily about Munthe and how she discovered him as a teenager (“My father gave me his book as a gift... it’s a stream of tales that mix autobiography with a touch of fantasy”). A few minutes later, however, on suddenly spotting Wuthering Heights, she tells us that the Emily Bronte novel is also a necessary element of her world.
She goes on to say the same thing about Oscar Wilde, too.
The library also includes Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Ditza’s parents were born in eastern Europe and their early childhood years were seared by the holocaust. She herself was born in Hadera in Israel and grew up in the town of Petah Tikva.
The foundations of Ditza’s reading life — in Hebrew and English — were laid by her parents. Her father would tell her bedtime stories from the novels of Jules Verne (her first introduction to India came from Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days). Tolstoy was “a god in my family” — Ditza read the whole War & Peace when she was just 15.
Her mother too seems formidable — she is a Chekhov devotee and recites whole dialogues by heart from his plays.
Ditza was also shaped by her mother’s late brother — an extremely well-read man who would casually drop the names of authors and literary characters in ordinary conversations. “While reflecting on something, Uncle Eli would suggest an analogy based on a book, or mention a writer and his works… and he would do that in a most matter-of-fact manner.”
Ditza’s young daughter has also taken up the family habit of reading though her fondness for Harry Potter novels have left the mother feeling disconcerted. Worse, she refuses to read Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. “She said it was boring! That broke my heart.”
Later in the afternoon, Ditza settles down on her favourite drawing room settee with Jane Austen’s Emma. One could see the impressions of a garden behind the curtained windows. All is quiet except for the sound of a girlish voice singing somewhere in the big house. Ditza’s daughter is rehearsing for a forthcoming concert.
By the way, guess what’s the daughter’s name?