Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Of books and reading

Books are our collective memory. Without them we would not have a sense of place or of where we came from. We would, without them, examine ourselves very darkly through a very myopic lens

I must confess that I am inspired by Howard Jacobsen. He writes like the essayists of yore, like Lamb and Hazlitt and Arnold. His wit is rapier, and his language is like a stiletto between the third and fourth rib. He makes me laugh while he makes me think, which is so rare. And the subjects of his admiration and his disdain are as varied as diatoms in pond water. 

So when I was reading him on the subject of reading and language and a delightful segue to the subject of his library, I was inspired to think about the need to read, the sense of individual history and the nature of memory.

By now, you who are reading this would have guessed that I love reading. Let me qualify that. I love reading everything and anything. I am gourmet and glutton, refined and philistine, civilized and savage when it comes to the written word: I read potboilers, poetry, essays,  critiques, critics, cookbooks for the hungry stomach and recipes for the soul, reasons to be reasonable and causes to be mad about, explorations into space , outer and inner,  the Bible and the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, history, travelogues, biographies, fairy tales, erotica, science fiction and science fact, dungeons and dragon tales, the unexpurgated  classics and the unpunctuated comics, fast adventures and quieter perambulations, humour and  tragedy, and the commonplace in-between; the list goes on.

I confess to needing reading like a meth addict needs methamphetamine.

Reading moves me; so much so that I need to read when I retreat to my personal adytum in the toilet. And once to my own self deprecating amusement I found myself reading the small print on the side of a washing powder pack which was the only reading matter in the washroom of a house I was visiting.

Unlike movies and TV, (and as a disclaimer to snobbishness, I confess to liking them, too) I find myself living various lives, inhabiting new minds, exploring uncharted wilderness within,  and reinventing my view of the world  when I read. I am as Alice in wonderland.

I find myself defined by reading in many ways. I can be raconteur, hedonist, philosopher, creator, voyeur, expressionist and impressionist, thinker and feeler all together. The selves emerge appropriately. Maybe I channel writers and words like some people channel the Great Rameses to give them wisdom and advice.

I owe books an unpayable debt. 

Books are our collective memory. They tell us where we have been and where we might be today. They hint at our futures. And they stitch together our different myriad of lives into a fantastic patchwork.

Without them we would not have a sense of place or of where we came from. We would, without them, examine ourselves very darkly through a very myopic lens. 

When I for example walk into my meagre library, I can see where I have been. I can pick up an old book, say Rhinehart’s The Diceman and suddenly remember, as I re-read it, that I was once fascinated by the idea of chance and destiny. And today I can wonder whether it is chance that I am here. I am empowered by wonder.

Writing transcends language. The heart can speak with many tongues.

And when translated well Marquez and Cortazar can make me smile and wince and cry as much as Updike and Bellows. Premchand and Narayan are book fellows. Chekhov can make me feel as desolate as Ibsen.

Books also transcend time and space: the poems of Kalidasa can have a conversation with Neruda, and Shakespeare has tea with Cervantes. The myths of Gilgamesh find comfort in the story of Manu, and the nonsense of Leacock would giggle with Mr Pickwick. Would Holmes like Feluda, would Nero Wolfe think highly of Father Brown , and would Miss Marple say to Precious Ramotswe, “Go for  it girl!”? The pain of Juliet is no different from that of Laila. The wisdom of the tenth century Persian master, Hafiz, sings from the same music sheet as that of the seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho. And the dreamtime and song lines of the Aborigine travel well with Coelho and his Alchemist.

Yeshua aka Jesus asks the same questions of us as the unknown author of the Brihandakarnya Upanishad. And Teresa of Avila cries with the same longing as Rabia wandering the desert or Meera in a palace. The musings of Ibn Battuta about customs and language in strange lands are as redolent with the richness of travel as that of Herodotus in ancient Egypt or Abbe Dubois in Hindu India. 

The Astra Shastras of the Mahabharata re-occur in the Excalibur and the Lord of the Rings: Magic lives forever. Verne creates flying machines, and the demon Ravana abducts Sita in one.  Wells makes aliens fearsome and Clarke makes them messiahs.  

As mirrors, books can show us as fat, thin, ugly, beautiful, tall, short, statuesque or misshapen: We can read about the evil in man when we dare delve into Mein Kampf. Or we can see God in the human soul when we read the stories of Tolstoy. Tagore asks us to be better than we are. Genet believes that we are meaningless. Capra wants us to see infinity dance on a pin, and Hawkings wants us to dive into the ever nothingness of a black hole. De Chardin sees divine wonder in evolution and Dawkins sees the selfish gene. 

When we read, all these warriors of the Word ask us to question and think. They provoke us to refresh resolution and intention. They invite us to forget our limitations. They beguile us with possibilities.  They want us, sometimes, just to relax and make time flow more slowly.  

They are us and we are them.

Reading is probably the finest argument for our humanity.  And the best way to become un-mired from the sloughs of despond.

Now read the amazing TH White as he educates Arthur in his once and future classic:

 “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then―to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 

Reading is one of the best ways to learn.

And if a book can just create one curious inquisitive mind, it fulfils itself.

The mind gets wings and the spirit can travel.

I worry with possibly the anxiety of archaism, about multimedia as we now call it and to the digital revolution and whether the instant blurb, the sound bite, the flashed subliminal will make us read less. Whether we seek only those words that have utility like a balance sheet, or writing that offers comfort like a one night stand.  

Will we forget how we came here, who we are in our blood and why we are going anywhere?

Will we stop reading?

Reading creates writers, not the other way around. 

When we stop reading, all of these people will finally die and with them will die our history and our evolution.

And Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpischore,Urania and Melpomene will all vanish as wisps of imagination, leaving possibly only the sound of a sigh.

(V Shantakumar is the former chairman & CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in India and now the managing partner of Doing Think)




K B Patil

5 years ago

It is indeed difficult to visualise a world without books. Gadgets like Kindle just dont appeal to me at all. The smell, touch and feel of paper is hard to describe to an ignoramus. But, like all good things, even books seem to be nearing extinction, going by present trends. I wish that this is still some time away.

Nagesh Kini FCA

5 years ago

I entirely agree with Shantakumar that we owe books a unrepayable debt.
I'm amused with his genuine love for reading taking to reading the fine print of the detergent container sitting on his throne in the toilet.

I've a coaster in my collection of books -
"Before you ask, the answer is NO."

I don't part with my books easily.I read that Hugo had in his library "Never lend books, because all these are borrowed." Absolutely true.

Abhor making dogs' ears and casting it away after one reading.

Books can never replace comps., ipads and its ilk.

May the tribe of book lovers increase.

Rajya Sabha session ends without passing Lokpal Bill

The Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday after failed moves in 43 years, appeared jinxed when it seemed that the government was not able to muster a simple majority required for its passage. The Bill had seen eight attempts earlier since 1968

New Delhi: The Lokpal Bill yet again failed to get Parliament’s nod when Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die last night abruptly amid high drama and opposition accusing the government of running away from a vote because it was in a minority, reports PTI.

The Trinamool Congress, a UPA constituent which had moved a slew of amendments and gave the government torrid time when it vowed to vote against the bill, called the adjournment an “orchestrated chaos”, almost echoing the opposition view that it was “choreographed drama”.

The Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday after failed moves in 43 years, appeared jinxed throughout the day when it seemed that the government was not able to muster a simple majority required for its passage. The Bill seemed jinxed as there have been eight attempts earlier since 1968.

The problems of the ruling coalition, which has 93 members in a 243-member House, grew after one of its constituents Trinamool Congress (6) and outside supporters BSP (18), SP (6) and RJD (4) made it clear that they will vote against the Bill.

Trinamool Congress and parties like BJP and Left parties had moved amendments for deletion of Part III of the Bill related to appointment of Lokayukta in states. The BJP and the Left also wanted the CBI to be part of Lokpal.

On a day marked by conspiracy theories in the corridors of Parliament, the government tried to persuade the allies and outside supporters to avoid a vote which looked it was sure to lose.

And when the time for voting came, parliamentary affairs minister PK Bansal suddenly came up with a request to the chair for time to consider 187 amendments moved by the MPs.

Smelling a rat in the government strategy, leader of opposition Arun Jaitley said the government was running away from the House because it was in a “hopeless minority”.

“A government which did not have the numbers in the House has consciously first choreographed a debate so that it cannot not be concluded before the 12 O’ clock,” he said.

Mr Jaitley told Mr Bansal that they will sit the whole night to transact the Bill. He said the government has “no right to continue in office even for a minute”.


Not a single issue hit the primary markets in November: SEBI

The lull in the primary market activity is because of private equities and foreign institutional investors (FIIs) not brining in fresh funds due to slowdown in the US as well as Eurozone nations facing debt crisis, experts said

Mumbai: Reflecting the damp market mood, India Inc kept off public offers and rights issues in November, as not even a single issue hit the market for the second consecutive month, reports PTI.

“November 2011, like last month (October), did not see any public or rights issue made in the primary market,” according to the Securities and Exchange Board of India’s (SEBI) latest ‘Capital Market Review’.

The lull in the primary market activity is because of private equities and foreign institutional investors (FIIs) not brining in fresh funds due to slowdown in the US as well as Eurozone nations facing debt crisis, experts said.

Various companies went in for IPOs and public issues in August and September, but their scrips were trading below the offer price. In October, companies turned cautious.

“The cumulative amount mobilised for the financial year 2011-12 so far stands at Rs16,437.6 crore through 47 issues, as against Rs48,923.3 crore through 60 issues during the corresponding period in 2010-11,” SEBI said.

It said that no company went for Qualified Institutional Placement (QIPs) in November. In October, only one QIP had taken place which raised Rs40 crore.

Preferential allotments, however, continued to be made.

There were 21 preferential allotments in November which raised Rs169 crore, SEBI said.

In comparison, 18 such allotments were made in October which raised a total of Rs417 crore.

The stock market witnessed a lot of volatility in November and the BSE benchmark Sensex fell 8% during the month. It has fallen nearly 24% this year, eroding around Rs20 lakh crore from investor wealth.


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