Thursday, February 26, 2009

Books, by hook, or by crook

I just came back from a visit to American Centre Library. It’s become like running an obstacle race. First the inscrutable guard behind the steel barricade, then the bag check, then an officious (meaning nasty) injunction by the sneering guard (he obviously resents book readers) to “switch off your mobile” and then a steep ascent into the library, again face-to-face with two uniformed guards at a door which looks as high-tech as the ones in Fort Knox. (You have to push a rod that unlocks a bolt while opening the door; you will stumble and fumble, and make a fool of yourself, which I did.) Once inside, I find the library deserted except for a few oldies sitting and reading, right, you guessed it, American newspapers.

All the days of my distant youth, I used to walk into this very library and borrow books with nobody even paying me a second look. Those days, it was so full of youngsters that it also was one of my favourite ogling spots. Nowadays I think readers are like smokers. They have been hunted, ostracised, pushed into the very inaccessible corners of the social circles by stupid laws. A bookseller I visited has this poster stuck on the walls “Not for browsing; only for buying.” A salesman followed me around, as if I was some thief who would snatch one of his precious volumes. Another library from where I used to borrow books closes at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, the day of the week on which I used to visit its hallowed precincts. Ergo, I stopped visiting.

And how can publishers say they can’t find a market for books when discerning readers are ostracised thus? Are readers the new outcastes, even the society looks down upon them as they curl with a book in a discrete corner in the house, or, try to read in a desperately crowded compartment in the 8 p.m. Panvel local? Is reading out of fashion? What happened to the intellectual ferment that accompanied the release of a book, the recognition, the adulation or the brickbats? As an author said recently an author is not discussed but if he generates controversy he becomes famous.

Now, books are expensive. They cost a bomb these days. So, do I give up reading? No way. There’s a bookshop I frequent in CBD Belapur where the kind and understanding bookshop owner lends me books for Rs 200 and gives me Rs 180 back when I return them in a good condition. Are they genuine, or pirated? I don’t know. I don’t care. If society looks down upon book readers (like me), I am justified in reading books, either by hook, or by crook.


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