14-Jul-2010

Leave them books alone!

The drums have started beating faster – presumably announcing the death of the ‘physical’ book in the near future. It’s the age of PADS and PODS and everything is hyphenated with an ‘e’ or an ‘i’. Who would want to hold a dumb ol’ book between the thumb and pinky and ONLY read...when one can squint into some screen (held in one hand) and use just a thumb to scroll (same hand if you are deft, other hand if you are daft) and read a novel, download MP3s of Scissor Sisters, shop for the vitamins, upload photos of one’s big toe (that’s the status update for that particular minute) and also tweet about Lady Gaga’s latest wig? Wow! I just framed the world’s longest and incoherent question.

The point is, if you are like me...then we are possibly the minority section that are going into the future kicking and screaming. I don’t hate technology. I just adapt to stuff slowly. More than a decade ago, when broadband was a hair accessory (as far as I was concerned broad band was a type of hair band) and VSNL was the only option for dial-up internet connections, I scoffed at geeks who had an email ID. When potential employers threatened to inform my interview results through emails, I had no option but to log on. Before long, I was an unwilling convert and I became the average-jane IT consultant, responsible for creatively coming up with more bullshit than the environment guys. Finally, just before I completely sold out my soul to Satan, I quit to smell the roses etc. Then, I discovered Facebook...and that all my schoolmates are on Facebook. Now I am back in their lives after 18 years, plaguing them 24/7 across time zones and geos. I am not yet on twitter. I don’t have so many thoughts to qualify for twitter. Besides, brevity has never been the soul of whatever little wit I have. I’ll get there someday. Meanwhile, I love to shop online. I love Print-on-Demand. I love all these technologies that have made me sit on my ass and reach out to the world, without having to meet, touch, or talk to humans who are alive and kicking. BUT! But what I don’t love is reading a book online. Or rather, reading it off a computer screen or any screen for that matter. This invention makes me froth...it’s viler than the nuke bomb if you ask me.

Not that I’ve not tried. There is a website called Project Gutenberg. They have legally published digitised version of thousands of literature classics. This website has saved my life several times; especially during meetings where my brain matter could have oozed out due to the pressure of boredom. During grim meetings where we discussed ‘why something sucked, and why it will continue to suck and why we can’t prevent it from sucking’; I would read Bram Stoker’s Dracula online. I would have a terrified expression on my face, and thoroughly concentrate on the laptop screen – an ideal gesture during sombre meetings. During light-hearted status update meetings which threatened to spill over by 120 billion minutes, I would read Tom Sawyer. The flip side was that I was going cross-eyed staring at the screen (yes the screen came with anti-glare technology). My eyes would puff like a tea bag and go bloodshot like that of an OD’d junkie. Why would anyone go through this torture?

At home, we are collectors of books. I especially love second-hand book stores. Not because the books come cheap...but because each book comes with a history. My father had picked up G.B. Shaw’s Three Plays for Puritans way back in the 1970s. This has handwritten notes in neat loopy handwriting dated sometime in the 1950s! What a journey this book must have had! Wonder which dapper young man of the 1950s must have read and relished this book! Similarly, there is a leather bound book on ‘Essays on English Literature’ – a 1960s edition, which was bought in 1970s for an extravagant sum of Rs.3! This one too has underlined passages and notes written in impeccable handwriting. A Chase novel came with a list of groceries, a collection of Thoreau’s poetry was dedicated to ‘My Queen’ and so on.

Even now, whenever I visit my Dad, I raid his book collection. I love the faint smell of naphthalene that wafts from the yellowed pages – and pleasant memories of lazy summer holidays bubble up. Dried ferns, or the petals of a rose, or the gold foil wrapping of a chocolate were my book marks. Some books stayed in the mind more than ever. The passages were Darcy confesses his feelings for Elizabeth made my romantic soul thrum like a plucked guitar string. These passages were visited again and again, and read out softly. Sigh! Or when the murderer is revealed in the end of an Agatha Christie story...what surprise! And I would read all over again, the passages where the murder appeared earlier on in the story and marvel at the characterisation. So do you get it? I don’t see myself scrolling up and down a foul computer screen to revisit a passage. How utterly senseless and annoying!

The best end to a day would be curling up in bed all nice and warm and reading an absorbing, thick-as-a-brick paperback till the wee hours of the morning. If you are like me...you’d want to devour the book to see how it ends – but at the same time, you don’t want to stop reading ever, because the book is so good! And so, every time I insert a bookmark, I look at the thickness of the remaining pages and think how many more hours of bliss remains? And to think all this will disappear in the years to come...I can only wish the 2012 doomsday predictions are true!

I imagine myself lying on the proverbial death bed and croaking to my grand children (hopefully, at least one would have inherited the love of reading), “Here is the microchip that contains my book collection. Unfortunately I busted the screen while searching for my dentures...so you will have to buy a new one and insert this chip.” ARRRGGGGHHHH.

So here is a compromise that I suggest. Why don’t you techno buggers shove up all those text books into these *PADS? At least school kids will not have to carry the going-to-Antarctica school bags. And can someone please pass a law banning novels from being digitized?

In any case let me know if you sons-of-Lucifer will still go ahead with this e-thingie and phase out books. I will sell my house and liquidate my savings and buy all possible books and live in a bunker.

1 comment:

  1. Well written Sumana, you've added that pinch of salt, as always the right amount to make a simple but serious topic so hilarious. I completely agree with you that the coming gen will certainly miss out that fun of reading from the NON i or e-PRINTS. Can't just forget how I used to hide the novels inside my school books and appear as though I was being very studious :)
    I especially like your comment on the school bags!

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