Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Bee

I am a ‘Book Bee'.

Have I caught you nodding wisely but, after a couple of those wise nods, pausing suddenly and looking perplexed - and looking around furtively to check whether anyone has noticed your discomfiture?

Don’t worry. You aren’t the only one to nod vigorously and looking wise in the face of something that one has not quite understood. You are actually better than the lot.

Think of the zillions of people who look at a work of modern art (and even some not so modern art) in an art gallery looking very thoughtful, engrossed, appreciative, and letting out a faint whistle or two followed by a ‘Wowwww!’ under their breath as they peer at a painting which, in their honest opinion, doesn’t actually look anything more than a pail of paint spilled all over the place.

Think of those thousands of people who go to a classical music concert, look all so immersed in music, clap occasionally and applaud thunderously with a beatific smile plastered all over their faces though they know nothing about Raga, Tala etc and can't actually care less about the stuff.

Or those millions of users on FB who click on 'Like' against something though they hardly know what it is all about or why they 'like' it. In fact the less they understand something or the less there is a reason to like something, the more they seem likely to say that they like it. Prompted by a need to pass off as wise and learned, perhaps.

You are not alone in it and never shall be. If they don't look around self-consciously, you have far less reason to. As I have said, you are better than that lot. You have been genuinely confused - having been caught unawares by a not so clever play with words.

I don’t claim ‘Book Bee’ is quite in the Ivy League of a work of art or a music concert. Yet, for an analogy, I had to say something – something I do not quite understand myself, I guess!

Well, ‘Book Bee’ sounds familiar but there is an odd ring to it, right? Not surprisingly.

(I have this knack of getting back to where I had started – no matter how much I digress. You have to concede that!)

You have heard of bookworms. And you have heard of honey bees too. But book bees?!! Now you know why you have that feeling of uneasiness coupled with familiarity.

Just like honey bees which collect honey painstakingly, I have been collecting my books painstakingly. But that is just about where I want the similarity to end.

Honeybees are smoked out of their beehives by cunning mortals who are after the honey. (I wonder whether the roots of Communism lay in the exploited world of honeybees!) Crooked, selfish, exploitative chaps these cunning mortals are; I agree with the honeybees.

I refuse to be relieved of my books - my most precious possessions. I am a tougher nut to crack or a tougher bee to ward off. I have no intention to let my painstaking collection pass into greedy but indolent hands - hands that receive generously but give parsimoniously.

“Vanitaa, vittam, pustakam parahastam gatam gatah”, so goes the saying. Once a woman, money, or a book passes into the hands of another, it is gone for good.

I haven’t had a first hand experience – touch wood, I‘d hasten to say – with the first two in the list; but I have had a faint brush with the third because my brother – a tad younger than me but a lot less circumspect than me - took it upon himself long long ago to give away a few of my precious books to a convincing cousin – ‘A Bridge Too Far’ by Cornelius Ryan, ‘French Revolution’ by Thomas Carlyle, and a few rare text books of Physics and Mathematics. Fortunately, I woke up before the damage could spread and took preventive measures (which I shall speak about later).

There is this problem about books. If you do not lend them, you are considered to be mean and thoroughly unsociable. If you lend them, they never come back – and if they do come back, they do in such a thoroughly disgusting and deplorable condition that you feel like throwing them out or gifting them back to the person returning them. If you complain to anyone (other than the borrower), an all-knowing crooked smile is flashed at you and you end up being bestowed with that oft quoted piece of ancient wisdom: “Vanitaa, vittam, pustakam parahastam gatam gatah”.

The people who borrow books and do not return them or return them in a thoroughly mutilated condition do not seem to understand something. It is not just a book. There is a lot of you associated with the book. You may have bought that book with the pocket money of one year or with your first salary; you may have bought it when you were on that memorable trip to Paradise with ur girlfriend (or boyfriend); you may have bought it when you had that famous tiff with your girlfriend (or boyfriend) and that book was your only solace for the few hours that the tiff continued. It may be a signed copy or a limited edition copy; it may be a book which had been long out of print when you picked it up in the crowded stalls of College Square braving the withering glares and vicious, wilting glances of that bewitchingly pretty damsel coveting the same book (and you gave up coveting her – proving to be a tad above Sage Viswamitra), off the dusty pavements on Abids Road after a long search for the book with your book-loving dad (who is no more now) when the temperature was soaring at 45C or in the charmingly dilapidated Moore Market. The memories associated with a book are often more precious than the book itself. One can borrow my books, perhaps. Can one borrow my memories or, what is worse, destroy my memories?

If you have books and if you have some friends, the friends are bound to covet your books sooner than later. But my vision is not clouded and my priorities are pretty clear. I value my books just as well as I value my gal. And I am as devious as I am determined to keep both my gal and my books out of harm’s way! That may bother my friends; but that does not bother me. Just as I would throw out a friend who covets my gal, I would throw out a friend who covets my books. Ruthless I can be.

If the person seeking to borrow a book is a gal who makes my heart flutter whenever she smiles, I brace myself firmly to say a charming but firm ‘No’ – consoling myself that acquiescing to her does not ensure anyway that I would win her over and that gals are often believed to like men who are charming and firm at the same time! If you are a guy whose heart flutters because of every other gal that passes by … aaaah, life can be difficult and I can only commiserate with you if you were in my shoes.

If you lend some insignificant book in the hope that the borrower would not return it any way and so would not dare seek to borrow another book, well you are in for a nasty surprise. The familiar trick that works with money just does not seem to work with books.

So what do I do to preserve my books, my memories, my life, my lifelines?

When I talk about myself (which is most of the time), I do make it a point to veer the conversation round to my love for books and add in all seeming innocence that I do not lend books. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, I tell them, because the loan loses both the friend and the book. (I do take care to add that I am a worthy exception to the usual lot of people who borrow books!) Most take the hint. If they don’t, well, God save them from a more pointed refusal.

Yet, I am not satisfied. I think stronger preventive measures are called for.

Barring the most impossibly dull books (going by popular preferences) which I am almost certain that nobody would bother to read or borrow (except perhaps to adorn their bookshelves with and pass off as well-read), I hide them all in cardboard cartons – taking care to take them out once in a way to dust them and replace the naphthalene balls in the cartons. Some books I do hide in my cupboard with wooden shutters and keep the cupboard firmly shut and securely locked, the key always on my person - something like the proverbial key on the person of an ogre whose life depended on the life of a parrot held captive in a golden cage in an impossible island beyond the seven seas.

The deviousness and camouflage work – most often. Sometimes they do not. In those cases, I might lie that the key is lost. Truthfulness sacrificed for a worthy cause.

All because I am a book bee – a bee which does not sting so much as a honeybee but is far craftier.

When all is said and done, an average day in the life of a book bee is tough. Tougher than that of a honeybee. Believe me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Equality Re-visited

Having said what I have said about 'equality', I find it necessary to address another issue - a very pertinent issue capable of causing a lot of heartburn.

When we say that two things or two men are unequal, we usually rush to conclude that one is inherently superior or inferior to another.

Equal and unequal are one pair of words; superior and inferior are a different pair. I see no reason to link inequality with either inferiority or superiority. This is avoidable confusion.

Perhaps the confusion is because if something is superior to something else, the two are obviously not equal. But if two things are not equal, can we say that one is inherently superior to the other? The converse is simply not necessarily true here.

The superiority or inferiority of any thing or person depends on the context. It has only a fleeting value and transient relevance. What is superior in one situation may be inferior in another or even irrelevant.

A steel rope and a hemp rope are definitely not equal - in terms of strength, cost etc. But, the superiority or inferiority of either is a different cup of tea altogether. Neither is inherently superior or inferior to the other.

In terms of strength, the steel rope is decidedly superior. So, if one is looking for a rope to build a suspension bridge, the steel rope is the rope of choice. It is superior – in that context.

In terms of cost, the hemp rope is decidedly superior if all that one wants is to use the rope to tie a pile of old clothes into a bundle. In that context, the hemp rope is superior in terms of cost and suitability as well!

The learning of a scholar may be (considered) superior when peace and prosperity are prevailing in society. But is it superior to the battle skills of a warrior if there is a battle raging? Is it superior to the swimming skill of another when the two are faced with drowning?

As I have said, ‘equal’ and ‘unequal’ are one pair of words and ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ a different pair. If we must link them, we should remember that ‘unequal’ does not necessarily imply either inferiority or superiority.


I have a favourite theme – a pet theory.

“No two people are equal - not even the so-called identical twins. People are born unequal, have unequal intelligence, unequal capabilities, unequal opportunities, unequal value systems and so on.

I have, of late, found a need to re-visit it.

I shall make a few observations before I dig deeper into it all.

Every person, undoubtedly, contributes differently to society, to his family and to his fellow beings. The difference itself means they are not equal. Moreover, some contributions are more significant than the others - and that further implies unequal contributions.

Each has his own space carved out in society. But not necessarily equal space or space of equal importance or significance.

All this reinforces my averment that "No two people are equal ...". I would go so far as to say that nothing in the universe is equal to - or identical to - any other. Is this moment the same as the last? Certainly not - if one realises that this moment is X moments away from some fixed reference point in the past and the next is X+1 moments removed from the same reference point.

Now, what do we mean by equality when we talk about the equality of people?

What I mean is obvious. A literal interpretation. Given that, there remains the need to examine what people mean - which is not quite the same as what they think they mean.

Despite the inherent inequality of any two things or any two instances of the same thing (eg. two mangoes), there is this issue of equality that has attracted philosophers - political philosophers in particular.

What they mean essentially is that all persons shall be treated the same way and shall be subject to the same laws, same privileges, same punishments, same opportunities etc because they are, broadly speaking, the same or equal. (Perhaps, 'similar' fits the bill better than 'equal' here; but who cares for semantics when 'equal' sounds more impressive and emotionally compelling?)

Fair enough.

But this is where hypocrisy begins.

Do we accord a boil on the person of a Bill Gates the same disdain as we accord the boil on the person of a beggar near India Gate or the Gateway of India? Don't we make so much fuss over Bill (if we have a chance of being noticed by Bill or his cronies, that is!) while we simply ignore the lowly beggar?

Do we treat the problems faced by a less important friend of ours with the same concern as we treat those of a socially better-placed or more influential friend - assuming for a moment that the problems are similar in character?

Is a case relating to the property of an ordinary citizen heard by law courts with the same urgency as that of a case involving the fortunes of an Ambani, a Birla or a Modi?

Is the government as keen on acquiring land to help a poor man build a house as it is to help a large industrial house build a factory (even if it adversely affects the lives of several ordinary citizens)?

Apparently not.

Because some are more equal than the others!!!

So much for equality.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Am I addicted?

Here I am, less than twenty-four hours after creating my blog and making the first post. Why have I returned to it so quickly?

Do I have something more - something substantial - to say? I don't think so.


Is it curiosity that has brought me here? I don't think so. After all, nothing can be happening here to make me feel curious. My blog is not publicised yet and there is none following it yet. The friend who inspired me to take up blogging is not, as far as I know, particularly passionate about blogging now and is unlikely to be reading my blog or following it. So I have no reason to expect some comments of one sort or the other from anyone to read, re-read, and ponder over.


Is it the attachment - an attachment akin to that of a mother to her child - to what I have written that brings me back so that I can look fondly at my first post and smile a smug, contented smile? I don't think so. Because what I have written there is nothing extraordinary in any way. Moreover, I did write some pretty spiffy stuff - logically brilliant, passionately eloquent, and nonchalantly controversial but scrupulously fair - when I was part of an online community way back in time and, so, this is not all that new an experience to me. By my own standards, I have no reason to preen or gloat over my first post here to give it a fond glance now.


Is it possibly some kind of an addiction that brings me back here so soon? Possibly. An addiction founded in the need to say something to someone, to be heard by someone - even by some imaginary persons out there in the digital skies. (Remember that almost none knows about my blog yet.)

But, is it possible to be addicted to something so quickly? Not impossible, I guess. Particularly if one realises that the conditions right for an addiction may have been present in a person long before he gets to know about the addiction itself. As in my case. I am quite used to saying things and being heard. Not that I ever thought there had been a need to say or be heard. But it must have been present there; a presence strong enough to keep me saying things; heard I have been invariably (though I don't think most of those who heard me have either understood my point of view or accepted it despite some compelling logic). But, not having said much of late, I must have reached a point where something like a blog could shape into an addiction quite quickly.

An addiction to writing in a blog may not be a big problem.

But, addictions to more pernicious things can take root in quite the same way. That is a disturbing thought.

I just hope I do not have in me the conditions necessary or suitable for a more pernicious addiction to take root in me. If I have some, I hope to eliminate them all consciously so that I am free from the potential problem of an addiction to things pernicious.

Having said so much, I wonder how I could write so much about nothing!!! Am I (getting) addicted to the sound of my own words?!!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A first step ... a timid first step.

This is my very first foray into the world of blogs and blog posts. A world that somehow looked pretty intimidating till I decided to take the plunge. At long last.

My friend - the gal I hold extremely dear to my heart and mind - asked me first a few years ago to start blogging but gave up goading me after a while. She must have given me up as an incurable procrastinator.

Yet, here I am - scripting my introduction to the world of blogs, and hoping to give her a delightful surprise when she clicks on the link to my blog I 'd soon be mailing her.

It is simply fitting that I dedicate this first post of mine to this wonderful gal. And so it stands dedicated to her.