Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tales of Dusty Books Unsold -- Part II

So after the Garden Book Centre and dear old woman of the beautiful saris and the blunt cut that I, of the unruly hair so envied, there was the British Council Library in Pune. Now the BCL as it is fondly known is a library in the most colonial sense of the word; remote, forbidding, and overated. But to my 19 year old self, it was infinitely better than doling out parental generosity on literature that I had not yet discovered. It was here that I found Arthur Wesker and Iris Murdoch and Graham Greene. Also Rushdie and Marquez. It was here that I learned to use online catalogues and strange library coding. Here, I added my name to random lists of strange events that I never attended and pretended to read highbrow newspapers in long rooms populated by hypermetropic doyens. Lesson number twenty five in the long list of lessons on how to be bourgie.

Of course, one might be forgiven for thinking that BCL was actually an Irani cafe sans the food. No computers, no checking out movies (limited student memberships), one notepad only, no sleeping:). The things that one could not do in the library made sure it had a very tight USP; in three words -- come, read, leave. And yet it was surprising how much those constraints helped. I actually did read.

James Wood says it better in a recent review of Shahriar Mandanipour’s novel “Censoring an Iranian Love Story"...

Sometimes, the soft literary citizens of liberal democracy long for prohibition. Coming up with anything to write about can be difficult when you are allowed to write about anything. A day in which the most arduous choice has been between “grande” and “tall” does not conduce to literary strenuousness. And what do we know about life? Our grand tour was only through the gently borderless continent of Google. Nothing constrains us. Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. What if writing were made a bit more exigent for us? What if we had less of everything? It might make our literary culture more “serious,” certainly more creatively ingenious. Instead of drowning in choice, we would have to be inventive around our thirst. Tyranny is the mother of metaphor, and all that.

While Wood contends that Madanipour's novel is actually a tough reply to strange dreams of such constraint, I wonder how this would apply to reading? In this world of hyperlinking excess, sometimes I just want a blinkered chamber to read. Perhaps even a word processor sans an internet browser.

[To be continued....]