Sunday, 29 January 2017

I struck gold...

Nissy Sara George, II MA English

The phrase ‘an ocean of knowledge’ acquired a different meaning for me at the Chennai Book Fair’17. More than 350 publishers were spread over 670 stalls. It was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer surface area of the exhibition. I wanted to touch every book I saw, flip the pages and smell the sweet musty air that flew out at me, but it didn’t take me long to realize that it would be like trying to count sand. I can’t recall a moment at the fair that I enjoyed more than the view- books piled upwards, side wards, diagonally, spirally…

Second to that moment would be holding all my favorite trilogies and epics in hard bound versions of their latest self. They say the best things in life are free; but unfortunately, whoever said that did not own a book. Every time I flipped over a good book to check if I could buy it my heart sank at the sight of those figures. After a few similar disappointments my friends and I decided to follow the crowd. Surely there must be a place for students to splurge. I finally struck gold with Om Shakti Book House (575-576, 613-614). The posters said every book was sold at 50/- rupees and I remember thinking, “This is too good to be true.” 

I found out I was right when I carried eight books to the counter and received a bill for 1350/- rupees. Not that I didn’t want to spend that much on books but with the mess bill around the corner and the JAD trip swimming around in my head, I had to return all the trilogies and took up two other books instead.

The shiny clean cover of ‘Pink Sari Revolution’ by Amana Fontanella-Khan caught my eye right out of the leafy pile of books. It still had the plastic wrap on and as I ripped it free I heard the ‘Gulabi Gang’ of pink clad women call out to me; but not before I noticed the offended stare and “Hmpf!” that Amitav Ghosh threw my way. I had been ignoring his lofty style for five years now, never making it past the first chapter. But that day I decided that if I leave college without reading him I’d be offending my dignity as a student of literature. I whisked him off the shelf before ‘The Hungry Tide’ caught up to us and left the others behind; promising myself that I’d find them again somewhere. Someday…

Amish has become a phenomenon over the past few years. And just like what has happened in the past with other Indian writers being compared to white European writers, he has been declared as ‘India’s Tolkien’. I’ve been trying to own his books from the time I completed ‘The Immortals of Meluha’, but even at a book fair he’s above the scope of ever being on SALE. And I had a thought just then - why were the Fifty Shades books sold at 150/- rupees a piece and Amish’s books at 500/- rupees? And if you buy all three books of the Fifty Shades series you get them for 300/- rupees. Can you really blame people for reading only what they can easily afford?

Still, it was good to see Indian Literature in English do so well in the global market.

I left the Chennai Book Fair’17 wondering if I’d ever make it to those shelves; and more importantly if some student, decades from now, would be writing an assignment about the long lost legend of an ocean of books on land.

- Nissy Sara George

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