Scottish writer, historian and storyteller, William Dalrymple, was having a great time at the Times Lit Fest in Bengaluru, informing his engrossed audience on how the Brits looted India.
As he was describing how the East India Company, a spice-trading company, was run by a flamboyant merchant and entrepreneur (later Governor of the Company) named Thomas Smythe, someone similar to financial fugitive Vijay Mallya (owner of the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines), I was wondering whether to buy the author’s new book, ‘The Anarchy’, in hardcover, because I already had the book in my Kindle.
Incidentally, the East India Company easily decimated, with the help of Marwaris, local Indian moneylenders, the mighty Mughal Empire, which was managing an India that had a GDP of 22 per cent of the world economy at that time, in 1600.
I am what is known in the tech universe as a late adapter and buy geeky stuff years after everyone has discarded it and moved on. I wanted the device as I had noticed while in a plane that nobody was reading printed books
India’s gross domestic product was larger than Europe’s, including Britain’s, and only second behind China, and the Company reduced the economy to what it is now, Dalrymple said, to embarrassed laughter from the audience.
At every literature festival, I spend an inordinately long time standing in a queue, shuffling from foot to foot, waiting for the author to sign my copy of his book. I am not sure who suffers the most, the writer, or the reader, at such meetups and book promo events.
“Can you please sign this for my wife,” I usually tell the author hesitantly. For some reason, none of the autographed books in our bookshelves is signed to my name, though I pretend to be the reader in our family.
I remember standing in a queue in a bookstore in Dubai for what seemed like eternity while women were hugging and kissing Paulo Coelho, lyricist and novelist, as they approached him to sign their copy of his books.
At the Dubai literature festival, I was holding a hefty book that I thought would take a lifetime to read, and looked at the queue next to me that had excited kids, having a great time and waiting with unbridled impatience and eager to meet their fav graphic horror novel writer (artist?).
I even got former journo and politician M.J. Akbar to sign his book, ‘The Shade of Swords’, years ago in Dubai, where he had come to launch his latest work. (Nobody at that time had any clue that he would be accused of being a serial sexual assaulter in the newsroom, as #MeToo India was still very distant in the future).
When our eldest was visiting from Toronto, I asked him to buy me a Kindle as it was much cheaper than buying it here in Bengaluru.
The Kindle I wanted was the Paperwhite, now also waterproofed (presumably to read in the tub) and was for sale in India for Rs12,999 (about Can $240) while in Toronto, it cost just Can$139.99 (about Rs7,555).
I am what is known in the tech universe as a late adapter and buy geeky stuff years after everyone has discarded it and moved on. I wanted the device as I had noticed while in a plane that nobody was reading printed books; they were either watching a movie on their laptops, or playing games on their smartphones, or reading from a Kindle.
Back to the fest and my wife dissuaded me not to buy the hardcover version of Dalrymple’s book. “Remember, we are trying to get rid of books,” she whispered, as the crowd around us was a serious book-loving crowd.
Some years ago she had spent her whole summer holiday trying to sell or discard the books her mother had collected over the years. It is sad but nobody wanted the books, some dating back 100 years, and now we have a bookshelf full of historical mouldy books.
— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.