Confessions of a Bibliophile
By U. Mahesh Prabhu
A few months back 'India's Prime Minister in waiting' L K Advani released his memoirs My Country My Life. I found this memoir at one of the bookshops in the city. Reluctantly I purchased it. As I passed each page I was captivated with the experiences he had penned. It was more than a book of 'political propaganda'. It was a faultlessly seeming to be a work of a journalist to me, which Advani certainly was during the 60s.
I am a Bibliophile. Reading has been the best source of inspiration for me. I have found it to be the best mode of enlightening myself and also to comprehend skill of others, as a fellow writer. It is mostly through reading that I have learnt to structure a tale, describe character, delineate action, judge what works and what does not. A writer, some say, is 'always hunting, looking to snatch or steal, discovering what to avoid and what to make their own', this is emphatically accurate in my case.
I had been a frequent reviewer of books with a premier New Delhi based Newspaper. As a part of the job, they would send me a copy of a book to write a review. As an eloquent book reader I preferred to read any book twice. I employed this technique to ensure that before I criticize, or appreciate, I have made myself thorough with its contents. I solemnly deem that 'we will be predisposed only in a pessimistic way if we read without understanding'. This practice made my submissions of reviews tardy.
The Editor of this newspaper wasn't pleased with me over, what he called, 'deliberate delays'. But I would try to persuade him, as many times as he would raise the topic, that mine was the right way to do. I gave him no raison d'être to triumph over me, whenever a debate was provoked. But winning never meant convincing and one fine day he abruptly removed me from the panel of reviewers. It's over three months now and since then I have had to bear the cost of buying books, myself. The abrupt halting of my services to review books raised in me two fundamental questions: firstly 'Was I wrong in my approach?' and secondly 'Are my fellow reviewers reading the books thoroughly before giving their decree?' Never before had I evaluated my reviews with others. I was so certain that I considered mine to be the best. I was pompous, though to some extent.
A few months back 'India's Prime Minister in waiting' L K Advani released his memoirs My Country My Life. Most of the assessment from critics it acknowledged weren't benign. I had formed a bias for Advani in my own mind. I always found in him an ever despondent attitude for the Chair of Prime Minister. And most of the reviews looked as if to be targeting him for all the same rationale that which had formed my bias.
I live in Mangalore, a place which is consistently bereft of good books. I often tend to evoke the words of Nathaniel Benchley who said he found bookshops 'too depressing to enter.' I couldn't agree more with him, especially looking at the state of bookstore in my own city. All those books – each an attempt to immortality – are resting here on the on the shelves unread, unloved.
I found this memoir at one of the bookshops in the city. Reluctantly I purchased it. As I passed each page I was captivated with the experiences he had penned. It was more than a book of 'political propaganda'. It was a faultlessly seeming to be a work of a journalist to me, which Advani certainly was during the 60s. He was the Editor of Organizer, an RSS 'mouthpiece'.
As a politician you can seldom abstain from expressing your criticism. But there was a difference in his approach in the book. Though he had awful discrepancies with his colleagues, especially during the NDA regime at the centre, he was extremely fine in articulating his differences. I couldn't see 'loathe'. I was stirred by the recall he made about personalities absolutely unknown today. He could remember them all, and well. The book consisted more than that of Babri Masjid and his difference with his Cabinet colleagues, where many of his presentation of facts are too much for me to accept as true. But that is not to make a case against him, or to be utterly contemptuous, as many reviewers had been.
I couldn't locate a review by any other critic which had given an impartial justice to Advani. Almost all and sundry were impelled by their preconceived notion – I'm afraid to admit. Even my most favorite writer Khushwant Singh, now in his 90s, was one such person whose review almost stripped me of the admiration I had for him. I found his approach to be snobbish, sorry to say.
After having read the book twice, and rereading the reviews thereafter, I have, almost, come to but one conclusion: Books in this country aren't reviewed well. If not bad, they aren't good either. This I say not as a book critic, but as a bibliophile.
You may, certainly, disagree.