Monday January 22, 2018

End of the road for Spell & Bound bookstore

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By Ishan Kukreti

If human body can be considered as a temple for the soul, a book store can be seen as a temple for all the knowledge so painstakingly preserved in all its flesh and blood form; and that’s a book!

Book stores have long been an avenue of romance for the shy and the introvert, a boiling pot of arguments and rebuttals for revolutionaries, and a calm and quiet island away from the maddening crowd for many-a-soul.

For Michel Foucault literature, and as a corollary book, was something magical. It stood as a signifier which signified itself. Closer home, every bibliophile would agree when Nehru says, ” When you read books, you realize that your original ideas are not so original after all.”

However, Economy and the principles of supply and demand have forever been stronger than any romantic notion of reality.

The musty yellow pages of a hardbound title , no matter how appealing or attractive, can’t compete with a thousand book strong prosaically porcelain Amazon Kindle.

The paperback of a Rushdie’s, Kundera’s, Roy’s or Lahiri’s latest can never stand the onslaught of time and technology’s brutal march. A PDF downloaded is any day more convenient and handy than a book bought. However, it is also more conveniently forgotten.

The ruthless advance of modernity has taken a toll on a lot of things. The temples of human knowledge are also on the list.

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The latest victim of this one-way phenomenon is Spell & Bound bookstore in SDA market opposite IIT Delhi. In business and struggling since 2011, the place has finally succumbed to the digital pressure.

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“Humne toh chalene Ki Puri koshiah Kari. Ab nahi chal paya toh kya Karen?” (We tried to keep it going. But we couldn’t. So what can we so?) An abjectly indifferent caretaker of the store; a loyal guard of the burning literary The House of Lacquer of Delhi, tells me.

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The process of modernizing the apparently outdated traditional, going on piecemeal in various avenues of contemporary life is something worth pondering over.

Is Modern always a better substitute for Traditional, and moreover, does Traditional need a substitute to begin with? Is Modern more modern than Traditional?

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These questions are rhetorical, and demand just a moment of silent introspection. From vinyl to tapes to CDs and USBs, the world is again moving back to vinyl. The organic is coming back again after losing the battle with processed.

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If time is cyclic (as propounded in the Easter philosophy) do the labels “Modern” and “Traditional” hold any water? Or are they just yardsticks to name the Present?

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These answers can only be found at the beginning of another ‘now’ when the roles and ethos of the society will be rethought and reorganized.

Till that time, Spell & Bound, with many others, will remain a disenchantment in the lives of the people they once so dutifully uplifted.

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In memory of India’s founding fathers(Book Review)

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Title: Understanding the Founding Fathers –An Enquiry into the Indian Republic’s Beginnings Author: Raj Mohan Gandhi; Publisher: Aleph Book Company;
If we go through the scenario of political leaders, we will see them standing under a dim light of peace. This situation best describes the leaders who are involved in promising country’s independence or giving a blue map of its future strategies.

No matter how many years surpass, the people, opposition or the critics will still go on counter questioning their motivations, capabilities and achievements. India’s founding fathers are just the illustration of these actions.

In the Indian context, these could entail the prospects that could have ensued if Vallabhbhai Patel had been free India’s first Prime Minister instead of Jawaharlal Nehru, or if Subhas Chandra Bose had stayed in India during World War and led the freedom struggle and/or independent India.

Then how about if BR Ambedkar had not left Nehru’s cabinet, or going back a bit, the leadership of a united India had been given to Mohammed Ali Jinnah?

But as author Raj Mohan Gandhi observes, “These questions may usually be dismissed as being purely hypothetical but a related question makes practical sense. Are our present-day discontents of recent origin or connected to the beginnings of the Indian republic? Were crucial mistakes made in the 1947-50 period?”

It is an attempt to answer these questions that led to this work whose small size does not reflect its weighty and reasoned erudition but he admits its aims were first more limited – “merely wanting to address sweeping criticisms of (Mahatma) Gandhi and Nehru levelled by two interesting men – a swami from Gujarat and a professor from America”, both of who he only came to know about in early 2015.

Swami Sachidanand of Gujarat blames Mahatma Gandhi, for weakening India by his espousal of ‘ahimsa’, leading to the ignominious defeat to the Chinese in 1962 , as well as the Hindu community, by failing to understanding “two things: the value of the sword, and the danger from Islam.

On the other, American ‘Marxist’ scholar Perry Anderson, in “The Indian Ideology” (2014), charges the Mahatma with being “anti-Muslim, that he forced Pakistan on an unwilling Jinnah, that he helped fashion a Hindu state where Muslims would remain subordinate, a state which had enslaved the people of Kashmir”, and prescribes Indians banish Gandhi, Nehru and Patel and others and “all they represent”.

With “the Swami and the Professor were in essence cancelling each other’s charges against Gandhi, a reply would merely require quoting each to the other” but the author, despite a part of him encouraging this response, holds the issue is greater – for there are many Hindus who believe or led to believe what the Swami thinks contentions, and likewise, many Muslims in both countries about the stand most lately expressed by Anderson, “and if facts and reasons could clarify a few minds, an effort to supply them might be worthwhile”.

He begins with his rebuttals of both Sachidanand and Anderson, by extensively citing their criticism and inferences and countering it through Mahatma’s recorded writings, statements and actions – and simple logic.

The next chapter does the same for Nehru and the fourth deals with Jinnah, Bose and Ambedkar, who have all been praised by Anderson, laying out a tantalizing premise of whether they could have “joined hands to give India and Pakistan an alternative history, free of Partition and its killings and perhaps free also of the injustices and inequalities that have scarred the subcontinent?”

It is a thought-provoking work that the author, a grandson of the Mahatma, has penned and despite his relationship, he is quite balanced and freely acknowledges his grandfather’s shortcomings and mistakes. And there is something new that most of us will find, though it may not be very salutary, e.g.what ex-INA men ended up doing.

But the real value of this book is that icons are humans and not infallible or beyond debate, and issues of disagreements, or any perceived dishonors, can be discussed peacefully and logically, without sending oneself into paroxysms of rage and needing coercive action or bans to assuage.(IANS)