Everytime I step into a bookstore – and that is quite often, I have to buy something. The urge is insurmountable. The books, thus accumulated, are lying in a cluttered book shelf waiting to be devoured by me one day. If you judge me by the books that I have, I must be a voracious reader with delectable literary taste. Voracious reader, I once was. My delectable taste cannot be disputed either – it is something that I pride myself on. Unfortunately, my reading has not kept pace with the longingness to read. Lost in the corporate world, busy fighting everyday battles and recuperating when not busy, it is not easy to read. The more exotic one’s taste gets, the tougher it is to satiate it with a quick read. Most good literature deals with depressing topics and a depressing literary voyage is not the ideal recipe for a weekend rest for a mind already ravaged throughout the week.
However, little by little, I do get to undertake those literary voyages once in a while. In sudden spurts of inspiration or desperation (when I see a mountain of books that I have bought new), I manage to cover good ground. The latest books to be converted from my ‘books unread’ column to ‘books read’ catergory are two ‘Indian’ books – Identity and Violence by Amartya Sen and Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.
Amartya Sen’s book was a new attempt for me. I have never been a great reader of non-fiction outside of newspapers and magazines. This book told me why. It is a great book, no doubt. I agreed with most of what he said and there were some deep insights which leave a lasting mark on you. But, the book could have been compressed into a quarter of what it is – there is so much repitition of ideas that can help you pass an exam on the book. Amartya’s core philosophy or theory is intriguing – famines are caused not because there is not sufficient food for everyone but because sufficient food is not (made) available for everyone. Democratic governments, however irresponsible they are, will prevent famines to a great extent. Having seen Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu governments getting toppled because of farmer suicides, one has to agree with this view. Democratic societies will not allow people to die of hunger even while being blind to millions living with hunger.
Amartya also touched on the woes of partition. Khushwant Singh painted a complete picture in his novel. A very powerful story, simply told – interspersed with a few unnecessarily explicit narrations of sexual encounters (one must expect this in a Khushwant Singh book) and commentary on India (for the Western readers). A linear story told without plainly any jugglery of literary techniques. Raises questions on whether literature has been lost to technique in the last century. Even for my ‘delectable’ literary taste, a powerful story based on real life, narrated in a simple style, does have its attractions.