Milton said so, hundreds of years ago, that verse (now take that as reading) was only for the `fit and few’. If the writer of `Paradise Lost’ could say so in the 17th century, either he could read into the future or the business of reading was on the wane even nearly 400 years back! However, banter apart, Books, yes are quite out of the window.
This, despite the 60-odd Book Festivals that once are officially commenced—with usually a stuffed-coat author inaugurating the fair—morph into a carnival where the audience, and writers as well, line up to pile up their plates for the sumptuous array of the lunch buffet. Same in the evening, with music in the backdrop, drowning all possibility of stringing together a few coherent sentences regarding the book excerpts to be read by such & such writer.
But is it relevant, even the discussion that will follow?! Has not the wine and cheese blurred out the brain?! Would it not be easier to video-graph the event to play back when one had the space, and then export the occasion to all and sundry for them to know that you are gracing the Intellectual Affair, and whoever proclaimed, that we are intellectually incurious, better understand that this fabrication shan’t take him/her far.
These book jamborees are where people like to be seen, are high on social hobnobbing, may take the mike to ask the writer about `the most buzzed about book’, how she had come up with such a nail-biting unputdownable thriller—this without reading a line! Afterall, the incontestable reason for taking to stage was to be Instagrammed. I know a handful of publishers who are dealing with the indisputable painful truth of how long they would be able to carry on with this business.
The time to fold up shop, not smell the ink on a book just off the carousel, making the mind fragrant, is on the anvil. The publishers flatly tell you that people would rather don a designer shirt, spending a bomb on that apparel, then shell out a puny sum running into less than a 500 rupee note to buy a book.
The only reason for a large segment of them for not throwing in the towel is that, with the right connections, at the bureaucratic level, might get 500 to 1000 copies lapped up by libraries and so they can garner a marginal profit, good enough to keep their reputation afloat, besides earn funds sufficient to fill a dwindling kitty. Speaking of libraries, an eagerly awaited book, finally, at long last, makes its way to book shops but of course, yet more importantly, libraries of the likes of the India International Centre and its neighbouring Habitat Centre, and mind you, no exaggeration, prolific readers are ready to wait two months to lay their hands on the much-awaited volume.
A queue, a stretched-out one, with a wide-spread stare looks you in the eye. However, here one must pause to salute the patience of these prospective readers, who are prepared to sweat it out till their turn comes to borrow, to return the printed work on the due date, else have to bear the penalty cum the ire of the in-line others. (The latter, they could turn a blind eye to, it’s the `fine’ they’d take offence to!) And here I refer to the well-healed clan—professors, journalists, judges, architects etc and more etcs who can easily procure the hardback in question, for a quarter of the price of a customary bi-weekly luncheon they have in the very same precincts that house the library! Odd or warped is our relationship with money.
Now, there is one repeated snapshot that me would want to capture on celluloid. When I was not a sweet sixteen girl but a spunky one, I, with my pocket money, managed to be the proud possessor of `Gone with the Wind’, Margaret Mitchel’s sweepingly panoramic novel. And good Gawd, how many times afterwards did I ask the dear Lord to duck for cover.
A friend of my aunt repeatedly, as on every other day, would send across the same query (this was the pre-pre-mobile era) regarding how many pages I had read, and when did I expect to finish it! Akin to ETA (Expected Time of Arrival) to my, by now sour, bristling ears. It was as if I had been put on a Timer, and it was either read at all hours, even if it meant giving school a miss, carry to the bathroom as well, so one could take in a few sentences, speed-read, no matter at the cost of one’s sleep.
Nothing, hitherto, was nearer to experiencing an ambush. I don’t know whether I lent the lady the book on account of my exams looming overhead, thinking I’d read it when there was nothing to impinge on the flavour of this richly layered novel.
Or had I succumbed to her unyielding pressure?! (The brain does off-the-wall things to the memory!) I, do however, remember `Gone with the Wind’ being gone for long, returned frail of spine and dog-eared…Whyever could the woman, an avid reader, not just have bought the book?! I guess so many faithfully follow the, `look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves’ dictum.
With the time pressure mounting catch these slides: nearly 10 years ago, the CBSE had Helen Keller’s, `The Story of my Life’ in their syllabus. Any takers for these 10th graders?! Who reads—the preposterous cry thrown in your face?! Copy & Paste the notes provided on the net and your marksheet gloats of 90 percent.
Reading for Generation-Z and so many of us, passé. What with the myriad streaming platforms—Netflix and the rest of the herd! Novellas, stories made into films… Presenting the writers a pretty packet.
Passive entertainment without having to mull over a particular passage, bring into play your imagination! And what can one say about politicians or authorities on everything-under-the-sun variety that appear on news channels with the backdrop of `ceiling to floor’ shelves encasing books, poised candidly.
Yes, these spokespersons may have not lifted one, yet they must showcase how well-read they are!
Time to close this chapter and brush aside this business of books to halt it from becoming too bookish…
(Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.)