Saturday, June 18, 2011

Conversation in a Crowded Train

I am like an inflated balloon squeezed from all sides as I emerge from the train. When I am outside I am also smelling like a skunk from all the sweat of the others. Or, a musk deer in mating season. Obviously. The situation was that bad. Some train was cancelled, some were delayed and in the morning melee I didn't notice anything and barged into the first train that came along. Tough luck!

The situation was so bad - imagine being squeezed by well fed bodies (parathas and idlis and dosas) from all sides - that I was standing on my toes all through the one hour of the commute. I didn't know where my limbs were, my sandals were trodden by seemingly iron-clad shoes. Then I took out Issac Bashevis Singer's novel "Scum" and began reading about an ageing man looking to rejuvenate himself. Appropriate! A neighbour noticed this and asked where I got my books.

"American Centre Library."

"You mean that building with the policemen with AK-47 guns and blue-wearing private security men? I thought that was some high-security American embassy, and stuff. Is knowledge such a security threat? What are the charges?"

"I don't know if knowledge is a security threat. They perceive it that way these days. Rupees four hundred a year to borrow books. They have internet, videos, CDs, all sorts of information. It's a storehouse of information and records, but poorly used."

"You mean information is that cheap? I love reading and didn't know books and knowledge were available for reading so cheaply."

"Yes, you can operate your wi-fi and surf the Internet for free."

"I am amazed. With information so widely available and cheap why are we so badly informed?"

"Because we are fatigued by the propaganda that goes with the information. The subliminal invitation to try out something and spend money on it. We like to be influenced by the high-octane sales spiel of the media."

"I find I am spending on unwanted gadgets like mobile phones and not spending enough on books that give information."

"Yes. We are all prey to business and commercial interests. We don't value information and enlightenment as we used to."

"It's a pity isn't it? We would buy a mass-manufactured gadget but not a book."

"Because a gadget increases our brand value, just by being associated with it, a brand - Sony, Nokia, Samsung. The rise of branding has on the other hand seen the decline of perceived beauty in literature and performing arts. Whereas, popular entertainment were adaptation of literary works in the past literature is now created for shows and movies exclusively. These works are garnished and a hype generated to make profits and then it sinks into the pit of past attempts at entertainment. Nothing is of lasting value anymore."

I don't know if the conversation led anywhere. Was it germane talk, or, was it idle talk? By the time the crowd had thinned and there was more room around us. I took a good look at the youth: earnest eyes, stubble, casual dressing: youth hungering for knowledge and information and wished there were more like him. All we have these days are young people craving for more gadgets in which they can watch films and music videos.


1 comment:

Nasnin Nasser said...

Loved your views on people's vanishing interest on arts and literature by the overpowering influence of high-tech gadgets! No one's ready to pay a good amount on a worthy book but would love to spend to any extend for a new digital brand! Fully agrees with you.