• Tuesday, 19 March 2019

How a book can flatter to deceive

How a book can flatter to deceive


New Delhi, Feb 23 : What makes Ruskin Bond and Dom Moraes such great writers? It's the feeling they have for their readers, and, perhaps, the feeling that readers develop after reading their works.

Sample this from Bond: "Book readers are special people, and they will always turn to books as the ultimate pleasure. Those who do not read are the unfortunate ones. There's nothing wrong with them; but they are missing out on one of life's compensations and rewards. A great book is a friend that never lets you down. You can return to it again and again and the joy first derived from it will still be there."

Sarayu Srivatsa, who has just edited two books -- "Under Something of a Cloud" and "Where Some Things Are Remembered" -- on Dom Moraes, maintains that his mind "brewed words", he "wrote with pure grit", and that he narrated things as he perceived them, "not with his eyes, but from the inner reels of his mind".

Srivatsa quotes Moraes as saying that one must have a structure before one starts a book, that the number of pages, sections, chapters, and each chapter should be approximately of the same length and that a book should not be boring.

Thus, it was a "Gee, whiz" moment when I received "Retro India" by debut author R.M. Rajgopal (Manipal University Press/pp 309/Rs 350) because it promised to take me back in time to when I was stepping out into the world from a rather protective school and college educational system.

The preface whetted the appetite: If I wanted to buy a Jawa motorcycle, it would take 18 months to deliver; for a telephone at home the normal waiting period was two years; I owned a black and white TV with one channel -- Doordarshan; most flights (by lone ranger Indian Airlines) were late and being two hours late was construed as being almost on time; customs duties were high on almost all products, making smuggling a thriving, profitable trade, almost a cottage industry of -- and more of this ilk.

The final para of the preface promised an insight into the turnaround into the world of today.

"It will help the reader better appreciate the transformation that India has undergone. It is indeed ironical that for the better part of 45 years after Independence, the Indian economy was shackled. It took the will of a reticent Prime Minister with barely a working majority in Parliament and his quiet, turbaned Finance Minister to free the economy of its chains. And India took off, as it was always meant to."

Alas, at the end of the day, what is dished out is the reminiscences of an HR expert's 40-year journey from Cochin (Kochi), Kota, Madras (Chennai) and Delhi, the author's own words, "some dark days at work, and sun and laughter away from it" -- much of it to do with alcohol.

Which is exactly my grouse. Had the title been true to the book's intent, I would, in all probability, have it a go-by because if I am to devote my time to reminiscences, these better be of people who matter and who can enrich my life, which this book certainly does not.

Neither does it provide "a clear bridge between the then and now for the younger generations".

Better luck next time, Mr. Rajgopal.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])

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