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The Fate of a Book

September 11, 2006

When I am caught at mundane past-times such as reading, I find it tough to come up with good lines to stave off unwelcome visitors. If the telephone rings while I’m reading, the conversation usually goes something like this.
‘What you doing?’ goes the caller.
‘Reading,’ I say in as serious a tone as possible.
‘Oh! You can come with me to the mall then…’
If the door-bell rings and I open the door holding a book, the conversation goes like this.
‘Whats that?’
‘A book.’
‘Hey, you’re now officially rescued from boredom! Come, lets go for a walk.’
I can’t hope for another rescuer.

Sadly, reading has become an activity difficult to peruse…er… pursue. It’s not considered important, even when compared to leisure activities such as swimming, or walking, which bring with them valued health benefits. Nor is it thought to be as imperative as going to a pub or watching television, because both drinking and watching TV are relaxing, and help one unwind after a hard day at the office.
That’s why I was surprised when I came across a sizeable chunk of the population reading, in an otherwise deserted library. People hunched up, brows furrowed, buried in books. I scolded myself for my cynicism, but only for a while. Further investigation revealed that this was what was called ‘exam’ fever, with collegians absorbed in finding ways to surreptitiously tear reference books and steal the pages.

Strangely, thousands of books are printed everyday and thousands of writers tap away at their computers…in the hope that one day someone will read them. Read them?
If the books are lucky perhaps. More often they will stand unread, adorning a drawing wall, and be shined along with the brass, the crystal and the porcelain. Or lie in some long-forgotten corner, gathering dust. Or perhaps pile up in anonymous stacks to be passed on from generation to generation.
I always wondered: what is the ultimate fate of a book?

I got an inkling when my favorite bhel-wallah served me mouth watering bhel on carefully torn pages from an unknown book. As I deciphered the hidden words on the bhel-stained pages, it gave me a pleasure I cannot describe. Now, I’ve graduated to unrolling peanut-stained pages, and squinting at the small print, in the hope of reading something of use to me, but get a thrill even if it’s quantum physics. So obsessed have I become that these days I try to catch the words on paper boats as they bob past me on puddles on my colony roads. The words on these pages seem to beg me to read them. I think perhaps their craving to be read was not entirely satisfied in their life-time.

In the process of reading hidden words on carelessly torn pages of unknown and mysterious books, I’ve discovered the willing takers of books. They are the raddi-wallahs, the bhel-wallahs and the pavement wallahs. That’s the ultimate fate of a book.

(Revised version of what was published in the Deccan Herald as a middle)

Photo by me and copyrighted

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