In the preface to the Economic Survey of India, 2017-2018, Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, Arvind Subramanian writes, “The Survey strives to combine rigour with readability, a challenge that increases in the same proportion as attention spans shrink (from absorbing op-eds to scrolling down tweets). The Survey’s aim is always to build a portfolio of contributions, combining description, new data creation, deep-dive research, and provocative policy ideation.”
There is one particular incident that must be recounted here to make my point. One day, since I alighted from the bus at a stop which wasn’t exactly mine, I had to saunter till my residence through a stretch of road that I wasn’t familiar with. The stretch was eerily dark and quiet. After walking for some distance, I saw a minuscule, thatched hut to my left, and a lady standing outside calling out.
It took me a few seconds to realize that she was inviting me to have her. I wasn’t sure if she would have taken a refusal well, so I paced up and stopped only after attaining a safe distance. I could see lamp posts getting larger and shops appearing in sight. There was a used-book store that was selling books at Rs. 100 and 200 per kg. I had heard of this concept before but hadn’t seen books getting sold this way. Initially glad to have found such a store, I was left disillusioned once I checked the books. Most of them were run-of-the-mill books that people should avoid reading if they care for developing good taste. The only bright spots were the books on technical subjects but considering their weight, the deal was not very sweet. I wasn’t exactly looking for technical books either.
I had to decline both the offers – that of the sex-worker and of the bookstore. From whatever I could see of them and comprehend, both appeared battered. Both were unkempt, abused, marked, and scarred. Both were ordinary.
So what goes into deciding the prices for sex trade in squalid belts of a city and old books stacked upon each other under a rugged tent-house? I ask this not because I have complete understanding of these trades. I just have a fair idea about the value of presentation. A procurer (pimp) adds glitters, polishes, and qualifies the services and the prices shoot up. Another procurer (publisher) does the same with a book. For some people, I might have crossed a few lines here but a procurer is not necessarily an evil person unless he is indeed an evil person regardless of whether he is a pimp or a publisher. Books that got published some 100 years ago are getting re-branded, re-edited, reprinted and resold at higher prices than the previous editions. Does the same happen with escorts? Till a point in their lives when age doesn’t start showing, it does. As they grow in the trade, the prices go up. However, flesh trade is not an exception. This is the norm in any industry. It’s an age when the quality of every product or service is measured against the benchmark of porn. #foodporn #bookgasm #foodgasm #wordporn – any acquaintances in those hashtags there?
At a subconscious level, think of a sex-worker you have had, met or seen while going through the following lines.
What happens to the books that can no longer afford a publisher? They are sold like potatoes and onions in a last ditch attempt at making some money. What happens to the books that we buy and are long done with? What happens to the books that at least outwardly have nothing more to offer to us? I was not sincere when I had suggested to my friend that I would be selling them all. However, if one must sell, I think a second hand book should be sold at a higher price than the new one. In fact, the older a book gets, the higher its price should be, at least till the time it becomes really old and unreadable. It’s not very difficult to understand the reasons.
An old book, by the time reaches your hands has already enriched a few other lives before you and it has already gained some experience in changing lives. That experience, you do not have in a first edition first print. A freshman might make mistakes, a first copy might not give you what you expect of it, but in the case of an old one – more often than not, you are in safe hands because you have reached the book either of your hunting accord or after recommendations from someone you trust, and if you find a few scribbled notes in the book – you are perhaps luckier than many, and undoubtedly luckier than the first edition snobs.
Getting a glimpse into another life or going through a live commentary while you read those rusty pages is a priceless experience. Priceless things usually get sold at ambitiously steep prices. Hence, used books deserve better prices, abused books and you will find plenty of them – deserve our respect for having taken the blows of an untrained pretentious reader. In either case, I would choose to either go the capitalist way and sell them at higher prices than they were purchased or invoke my socialist side and give them away for free. The second option, would have to meet with great resistance from my faithfully capitalist enchantress bookshelf. The first one sounds more viable. I hope the world is ready when I sincerely mean to sell them.
The essay Books – The Used and the Abused! concludes with this part. Read the first part of the article here.
Barely a minute after the gift books had reached the recipients, I got an email from Junglee, an Amazon subsidiary, saying something to the effect of – ‘Now that you have bought books from amazon, how about selling some on Junglee?’ Though this was a routine pitch, it got me into wondering about a lot of things of recent past. Just a day earlier I had told a friend in jest that I was going to sell all my books, take note – it was not a serious statement!
I don’t own a lot of things. My friends who know me well are completely sick of my wardrobe and at times have to take me hostage to get me to buy stuffs. This is not because I am on some money-saving mission, I don’t save either. So where does the money go? I don’t claim to have some sort of library for myself, but I have a respectable number of books with me and the number increases at a staggering rate. In fact, our Government could define BPL (Below Poverty Line) mark by just contrasting between my wardrobe and the bookshelf. Rich gets richer, the poor gets poorer.
Capitalism-Socialism-Communism all sleep in the same bed here. I had read somewhere that the day you own more than single pair of clothes to cover yourself, you cease to be a communist. Now, most of the present day communists would certainly fail this test in today’s age and I don’t blame them. The condition itself is too stringent and suffocating. However, if for a few considerations, I am allowed to take it as the benchmark, then the beggar who just had a garbage box to comfort his spine in and almost no rag on his body, just outside my workplace in Chennai would perhaps make the greatest Communist on earth. Marx and Lenin would miserably fail this test. Taking heart from this, my wardrobe stands a much better chance to be regarded as at least a reluctant communist, reluctant because perhaps it wants to get a few more clothes for itself, but its master is lazy as a dead bone in such matters. This opens up two new ways to become a communist –
1. Have a very bad master!
2. Become lazy, lazy like a dead bone.
Sitting on an antipodal citadel, my bookshelf is a shelf-ish enchantress. If there ever was a true capitalist, it is her. The master is possessed by her beauty and she makes him do all that she desires. When much of what the master earns goes into her wishes and fancies every month, it is not very difficult to understand how enslaved and smitten by her the master is!
There is no end to her desires. I have never left my bookshelf alone, but perhaps on one occasion when I was moving to a new city and all her possessions had to be transported beforehand. For about a month, I couldn’t see her due to delays in courier service. That was the only time we were separated. A thing to note here is that this Capitalist monster owns a lot of anti-communism books, and since sits just beside my reluctantly communist wardrobe, leaves no opportunity to jeer at him and show him how communism failed the day master’s friends bought him a second pair of clothes. I can’t tell you any method here to become a capitalist. It can’t be done. Capitalize is a verb, but capitalism is a noun. So, you might think you can capitalize to become a Capitalist but Capitalize in turn depends on some noun, say in this case – situation! That situation comes by itself, you just have to be greedy enough. Like I said, the day you work your ass off for another pair of clothes in your wardrobe, you have embarked yourself onto the voyage of Capitalism.
To let myself wander for some more time, I would want to touch upon capitalism in books-industry and what’s going wrong there. I remember my boyhood days when books containing spiritual or religious messages used to be distributed for free and if I talk particularly about a few organizations, they used to encourage their first readers to pass on the books to somebody who hadn’t read them and continue the relay so that someday in distant future, entire planet would know about these organizations. Backed up by huge grants and charity money, this was their way of marketing. To be candid about it, I used to collect all of them just to sniff the fresh-from-print pages. Not that I didn’t try reading them but failed to make any sense of the content matter then. Interestingly, many customers stood benefited as even if they never opened these books, never turned over a single page; they could always keep them on their study tables and shelves to show off.
This still continues with the Quran and the Bible. You get them for free most of the times and the people who throng on the stores to get these books for free, generally don’t belong to Islam or Christianity. However once they rack up these books in their house, it helps to prove their broad-mindedness and establish a secular image to their guests without having read a word. That notwithstanding, let us think from the perspective of an involved reader. For him, these socio-religious books still come at nominal costs. Additionally, most of the dedicated readers share these books on their own after having read them. While he can get a Bible or a Quran, or a Gita for almost nothing, Das Kapital will cost him somewhere between Rs 500 to Rs 1500 on Amazon.
The socio-religious book segment is more communist than the segment that sells the works of Karl Marx. Marx would perhaps say today – ‘Socio-religious book is the new opiate of the masses!’
Think of all the socio-religious books as public owned and the fact that anyone can read them easily, re-interpret, comment, criticize, and burn them amidst a few fatwas from selected communities – not very difficult to fathom! Unwittingly and ironically, the bible of communism can’t be bought by the segment of the society that needs to read it more than anyone else. They have to be content with mind-numbing tall tales of leaders and impostors, not that the leaders and impostors have much of a difference in today’s age.