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Shopping Malls And The Anti-Book Culture

By Vidyadhar Date

30 December, 2010

It is not surprising that in the land of growing corruption in the bureaucratic, political and corporate sphere in India the book culture is sadly neglected. This is clear in the imposing heritage Town Hall building in Mumbai. It houses the Asiatic society library which is over 200 years old. It gets a lot of media attention. But few know about the Central library which is run by the state government and which is located in the same historic premises..

Fewer know that the citizens of India have a legal right to get free access to every book published in all languages in India and which is expected by law to be stocked in the four central libraries in the metro cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai.

The law requires that all publishers in India deposit two copies of each of their books to the four libraries. But few publishers seem to do that and the libraries do not bother to acquire them too saying they have no space to stock books.

So the system is depriving people not only of adequate food nourishment but also nourishment regarding information and knowledge.

In Mumbai readers in the Central library are now deprived of even drinking water facility because the building is under renovation as if the work prevents the supply of something so elementary as water to drink and wash.

That apart serious books are under attack from the establishment in every way.. This is happening on the streets as well as in book shops. A few years ago one could find a lot of serious old books sold on pavements in Mumbai. No longer so and this is obviously happening elsewhere as well. The place of these books is taken by new titles of popular sort of novels and other stuff, mostly in a pirated form.

Worse is that a number of fancy book shops coming up in various cities keep out serious books. An equally horrifying fact is that several district towns in Maharashtra do not have a single decent book shop. One can imagine the condition in other states. How empty is the boast that we are an emerging superpower.

The fancy book shops which have sprung up in cities in the last few years have a lot of space, good diplay, chairs and even sofas to sit and read, a children’s corner with toys and even nice restaurants with a fine fragrance of coffee and cake.

These book shops have everything except serious books. One finds large sections devoted to crime thrillers, fashion, palmistry, astrology, motor cars, management , food and drinks and what not.

All this is in English. All Indian language books are kept out. This is a grave insult to the people of this country, their languages, their heritage. Can one imagine big book shops in France or Germany selling books only in English keeping out French and German language books ?

We are so used to this dominance of English language imperialism that we do not even notice this atrocious discrimination against what is written in the languages of more than 90 per cent of the people of this country.

Coupled with this is the fact that most towns in India do not have a single book shop. So one is left wondering if there is actually a conspiracy to deny basic knowledge to people.

Some of the fancy book shops are located in shopping malls which is some kind of a cruel joke because the whole mall culture represents a vulgar display of consumer culture with flaunting of luxury brands.

There is one book shop in Mumbai a sprawling, shiny place, air conditioned of course and very nice looking from the outside. But the ambience is not serious at all. It is located on the land of a closed textile mill and is surrounded by the most vulgar consumer culture with a huge shopping mall , a bowling alley, a row of other fancy shops , one of them most unabashedly exploiting and vulgarising sex and fashion with a big display of women’s underwear .

So this was a rather odd site for the release of an excellent and very radical book on the exploitation of tribal areas in Orissa by aluminium multinational companies and others.

The book Out of this earth - East Indian adivasis and the aluminium cartel is written by Felix Padel, an anthropologist trained in Oxford and Delhi, and Samarendra Das, an Odiya or Orissa writer, activist and film maker. Padel is the great great grandson of Charles Darwin. The book has a foreword by Arundhati Roy.

The release function itself was excellent with very prominent speakers, S Parasuraman, director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bernard D’Mello, deputy editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, Edward Rodrigues, professor in the department of sociology, Mumbai university, and Sathya Saran, a former editor of Femina magazine

One of the most welcome parts of the book is that it is written in a simple, persuasive way. This is important particularly because academics usually write very unreadable stuff which really is a pity because at least some of them are saying important things. One hopes more scholars write in a simpler language.

Things are changing. People from poor families are becoming literate. Uttam Kamble, a dalit writer and editor of the Sakal daily with several editions, presided over the recent Marathi sahitya sammelan in Thane.

Dr Bhalchandra Mungekar, a Rajya Sabha member and a former vice chancellor of Mumbai university, made an interesting point at a function to felicitate Kamble at Vanmali hall in Dadar. He said in his young days dalits used to go to the houses of Marathas in BDD chawls in Mumbai to read letters. Things have changed. But where will the new literate people read ? Where are the libraries ?

Mr Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the recently pubished book Traffic in the Era of Climate Change. Walking, Cycling, pubic transport need priority.
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