Monday, May 22, 2006

Thank you for not reading. (With apologies to Dubravka Ugresic.)

Is reading uncool? One Mumbai cabdriver probably thought so without giving the matter much thought, I guess. He lost the opportunity of a lifetime. He had in his hands for a couple of days a diary containing the unlisted telephone numbers of Hrithik Roshan and Salman Khan among others. He could have easily hawked them to fans for thousands of rupees. The VIP whose diary – her ‘lifeline’, a mine of normally unobtainable info – happened to be left behind in that unfortunate cabdriver’s cab one Sunday afternoon was lucky. She got a cabdriver who thought reading was uncool and, as a result, she got her precious treasure trove back. HR and SK were spared the trouble and the expense of changing their unlisted telephone numbers. The cabdriver’s son who delivered the prodigal diary did claim a couple of hundred bucks by way of transportation – and reward for honesty, I suppose. But look at it this way. The cabdriver did read her address on the flyleaf. Else, the diary would never have come home. But obviously that was about the only stuff he bothered to read. No curiosity, no reward, what? My son Ashu who was in Mumbai briefly told me both his daughters, Aditi and Avantika, seem to think reading is uncool. That surprised me no end because both of them write well, far better than many of their peers. (P.S.: In my book, if reading is uncool, so is writing. Evidently, they and I don’t read the same stuff, huh? ) Seems kind of logical, though, since they live in the US of A where the National Endowment for the Arts uncovered “a precipitous downward trend in book reading” – despite the much-hyped Oprah Book Club helping to push millions of books. The NEA senses "an imminent cultural crisis" and predicts: "At the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century." Aditi and Avantika head the trendsetters. Let’s hope pretty soon they’re not at a loss for words. Review summaries of Dubravka Ugresic’s Thank You For Not Reading: (Irony of irony: Aditi and Avantika’s mom, Nandini, got me a copy of Thank You For Not Reading on her last visit to Mumbai a couple of years back. )

STOP PRESS: To read Alchemy, one of the 33 pieces from Dubravka Ugresic’s Thank You for Not Reading: Essays in Literary Trivia, go here: Quotable quote: “The transmutation of shit into gold is nevertheless no simple thing, for if it were we would all be rich. You need institutions, galleries, media, a market, publicity, interpreters (those who will explain the meaning of the artistic gesture), promoters, art dealers, critics and, of course, consumers. Even when the shit is well packaged there is no guarantee that the transmutation will succeed.”

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