I talked about the Social Books in my last post.
Then there are the lonely books. The books you read and are affected deeply by, but which are hard to find company to discuss them with. God’s Little Soldier by Kiran Nagarkar was one such book for me. There is nobody around me who has read the book, nor does the online world of goodreads or Amazon reviews help much. I have tried recommending it to people left and right, but it is 600+ pages book. It doesn’t make it easy to convert people. It is a lonely book.
It is the same with an accidental find like Pema and the Yak by Siofra O’ Donovan. What happens when a whole people are in exile for two generations. Tourism develops in McLeodganj and Dharmshala, of course. But what happens to those people? How do you judge youngsters who have never even seen their promised land and have dreams of going further away – to the US and UK – for better lives? What about the elders who are still fierce, or those losing hope and dying? Can society whose structure has changed beyond recognition in the conditions of exile be restored even if their land was recovered? Especially when some of those changes are actually for the better, such as the breakdown of the old feudal theocratic hierarchy.
Alas! Nobody to discuss these ideas with. This too is a lonely book. As are many gems I have read in my mother tongue Hindi. The one on top of my mind is Ghumakkad Shashtra (in today’s marketing-driven world, the title will be translated to “The ultimate guide to the art and science of wandering”) by the eccentric Rahul Sankrityayan. He converted to Buddhism after he started reading Buddhist literature to trash it in favor of mainstream Hindu philosophy espoused by Arya Samaj. He was a staunch communist, but managed to get thrown out of communist party because he refused to give up on the idea of Hindi as a national language despite being a polyglot. Wandering is his ultimate religion and he makes no bones about it in the book. Family pleas and societal expectations are nothing but sinister impediments in the sacred path of the ghumakkar dharma. Those who wander are those who progress. Ever since someone came up with the diabolical idea that crossing the ocean was a sin for Indians, our civilization went for a toss. Every (wandering) Tom, Dick and Harry started coming and pushing us around, he says.
Unfortunately, no English translation exists and even though it is a thin book, irreverent and funny, I can’t introduce it to most of my friends who are not comfortable reading Hindi.
Yet another lonely book for me is the curious The Woman Who Did by Grant Allen, published in the first decade of the last century. The book was scandalous for its time. It starts with a rather bold feminist take on the institution of marriage, although the ideas seem to go haywire as the book progresses. The spirit of martyrdom in the book is such that I can’t acquiesce to it; I can’t just ignore it either.
I would like to know what my contemporaries have to say about this book, especially those who have taken unconventional decisions about marriage, child-bearing, career and what not. Given that the book is free on Kindle, I might just have a better chance at getting other people to read it. But then most readers around me identify with the word tsundoku and have a large to-read list they can’t seem to get through, just like me! Reading on the fringes is not exactly a boon for your social life.
With lonely books, it is between you and the author, and even the author speaks only through the book.
That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read lonely books. It is the lonely books that best define you as a person. It is that part of you that exists whether or not anyone acknowledges or shares it. Lonely books are the ones you would like to pass on to your loved ones, like passing your love and care for them, like giving them a part of yourself. After all, aside from how books contribute to our social life, reading is best enjoyed as a solitary activity. It is the act of discovering words, expressions, stories and entire worlds on your own. It is the solace of a shy, introverted child, the companion of a lonely adult, and the ultimate joy invented by our story-loving species.
So, while I enjoy my newly-found Harry Potter social life, three cheers for good books– social or lonely!