The evocation for this vox pop struck me from an online conversation with a friend of mine, a couple of weeks ago. The colloquy was about “The Shadow Lines”, a book by Amitav Ghosh that I am reading currently. Both of us have a penchant for reading and possess avarice for books. Always trusting my opinion about books to read, he agreed to give the book a shot. However I was taken aback by a comment from my erudite friend, “I would download the PDF of the book soon.” Well the reason for this consternation was two-fold; the first one being my obliviousness about the fact of availability of PDFs for novels and fictions and the second being my friend’s thought to read the PDF rather than the book itself. Having known my friend since childhood and being aware of his putative proclivity with books, the realization of him being in the gamut of the ‘tech-bug’ that has hit us with the computer revolution, made me feel the whole revolution as a jinx for a while.
The notion behind this inking is not to present obloquy with regards to the tech-savvy ethos of the contemporary generation. I have no animosity against the tech-bug. In fact I am deeply indebted to one of its creations – the internet as a consequence of which I am able to share this thought with all my readers with the ease that we normally refer as ‘with the click of a button!’ Nonetheless I am not convinced with the contrived book reading idea. My pen gyrated on my notepad as I juxtaposed the trade-offs of virtual book reading. My analytics and my emotions both failed to induce me to read my novel from the glaring screen of the laptop. First of all the fonts have to be enhanced to make it an easy affair which completely plunders the feel of the book. Second of all the laptop has to be in close proximity of my lap that kills the excitement of reading and finally the paucity of the crisp pages of the book would add to the forfeiture of the pleasure of reading. As I discussed the matter with another friend who enlightened me about the methodologies to make it a pleasant affair the fundamental concern still persevered i.e. the absence of the book and the absence of the smothering smell of the pages if the book is old and the scintillating spark of the ones that are new and the absence of the touch of it close to the skin of my fingers. Along with this would be the absence of the hundreds of postures and positions that I generate while reading the book as it progresses. To add to it would be the sullenness of not owning the book.
Although this may sound like obsessiveness of books to many but people who love reading- the ‘book bugs’ in my parlance, would unequivocally commiserate virtual reading. The joy that a book bids is unparalleled. Not only a fiction or a novel or any genre of book for that matter, I find it hard to read the PDFs of textbooks. My professor is always ready with a softcopy of any course book that we need. He always coaxes me to not buy text books as today there is an easy way out with PDFs for all textbooks. Scrolling down the pages or turning through the pages might sound analogous endeavors but I somehow prefer the latter. I can fold the page of my choice, put a bookmark in there or underline the text with a pencil that I find noteworthy. Without doubt there are and must be many e-alternatives to all the tasks I just mentioned but none of them would coax me to give up a book.
I wonder how life would have been if the tech bug had struck us a few decades before. How would it have been if the fairy tales were read to me by my mom from the computer? How would it have been if there were no textbooks at school and instead of bags we would have carried laptops and notebooks? How would it have been if daddy had taught me the nursery rhymes by reading them from the computer or perhaps a power point presentation with multimedia embedded in it? How would it have been if my teacher had not presented me with my first Enid Blyton series but rather a CD of the same? As much as my imagination spreads its wings and flies and makes the could-have-been past look rosy with the tech bugs fluttering around, yet it does not succeed in emasculating my love for books.
The question about ‘acceptance and challenges facing a technology’ that I usually ignored at the end of a chapter in the course books does not sound so obscure now. Being a bibliophile it is quite an effort to imagine a world without books, forget about actually being in one such world. The bug has indubitably been an angel invented by man. Both present and the future seem dubious without it. However it still jeopardizes the existence of books and the day would not be far when it would push them into moribund. This may sound too far-fetched, but it cannot be denied that we all love the bug and we all enjoy being in its grabs. There have been uncountable writings as this that elucidate this pernicious effect of the bug, and this write-up is nothing new, nevertheless it is an attempt to rekindle the joy of reading from a book. Just as there are certain things that money cannot buy there are certain ecstasies the bug cannot bring, the ecstasy that comes from reading a book being one of those.
I am happy that my book bug friend was in the end, cajoled to get the book we talked about. I am hence assured that we can always draw the line where needed and then the book bug can live with the tech-bug happily ever after.