Monday, July 31, 2006


There was a time when I suffered from this obsessive, compulsive disorder of books... If I decided on a book, I had to have it.
If I set my sights on a particular author, I did not rest till I read all his works. One which I can remember immediately is Geeta Mehta. I read her A River Sutra, loved it and decided to read the rest. Raj (a fictional biography of the princess of a state), Karma Cola (a tongue-in-cheek account of the hippy influx into India) and Snakes & Ladders (assorted essays on contemporary India).
Then came Vikram Seth. I started with A Golden Gate, when A Suitable Boy was published and there was a blitzkrieg of publicity (probably, the first time an Indian author was marketed aggressively). I started with his earlier work for no other reason except that I could not afford the Rs 500, 1300-page just-released tome! I went through his entire list (almost) which included From Heaven's Lake, Beastly Tales and one more book of poems which I do not recall right now.
Of course, I became a die-hard fan of Vikram Seth after Golden Gate, which is a million times better than the soap-operatic Suitable Boy. The technical wizardry of the sonnets was quite mind-boggling.

One of my favourite expeditions was my hunt for Marie Seton's biography of Satyajit Ray.
This landmark book was required reading for all Ray aficionados - and I discovered to my horror that the damn book was out of print for an inordinately long time. I scoured all major book-shops, libraries, second-hand book-stalls of College Street, depots of some major book distributors of Calcutta... in futility.
Till I spotted the book in one of my friend's (Kochi, for those of you who know him) house. I still cannot forget the thrill of seeing the partial title (Marie Set...) on the spine of the book, which was hidden behind the first row of books on the shelf. I borrowed the book from him, had the entire thing photocopied and bound.
I will not go into the other expedition of finding the cheapest photocopy shop in South Calcutta. And the techno-commercial discussions I had with him on how much he will charge to have one double-page spread of the book on one A4 sheet. I remember that I could not xerox the pages with photos on it because they required more ink and hence a higher rate!
A long time later, Penguin had the wisdom of re-issuing the classic for a princely sum of Rs 495 - and I snapped it up (20% discount too, courtesy Strand Book Stall, Bangalore).
But somehow, the charm of the earlier expedition was unforgettable.

I have undertaken similar expeditions for a screenplay of Shatranj ke Khiladi.
Robin Wood's book-length critique of the Apu Trilogy (which I eventually found a Bengali translation of).
Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, which was (is) banned in India - but I convinced my father to pick it up on a business trip.
Two collections of autobiographical anecdotes by Sagarmoy Ghosh.
There are more, but I need to glance at my bookshelves in Calcutta to remember all of them!

All my trips to the Calcutta Book Fair were preceded by meticulous research and preparation of a list of books, complete with their publishers, date of publication and price. Given my meagre resources, the discounted value of this list corresponded so exactly with my budget that I barely had money for the bus home. Benfish and other such gastronomical luxuries were only to be salivated at!

The last time I made an effort for a book was when I asked a friend (Nilendu) to get me a copy of The Other Guy Blinked. I was working in Pepsi - and Shashi Kalathil (who was the VP - Marketing, then) had recommended the book very aggressively. Nilendu did all the dirty work when he managed to locate a second-hand copy at Amazon and shipped it down to India.

Why do I suddenly feel a tinge of regret?
I have just finished a biography of Hercule Poirot (an extremely well-researched book in which the author has collected stray pieces of information from all his stories to construct a chronological life-story). And I see on the back cover, that there is a similar biography of Miss Marple by the same author. Except for some cursory net-surfing, I have given up on the search and I know that I will not be able to find this second volume.

The irony is not lost.
God has now given me the means to buy a book or a record if I like it enough. But he has taken away the enthusiasm (time?) to look for it.

1 comment:

nilendu said...

"All you who sleep tonight" (presumably immediately after you start it!) -the other poem collection by Seth.