This whole post is triggered by one video. Just one.
The video itself is amazing, and I especially like it since off late I have been kind of hunting down stop-motion animation videos. The music, which is exclusively made for the video is also pretty nice. But what made me sit up and write this post are the comments that follow the video.
Now I know comments in YouTube can be quite lame at times. I have seen literal wars take place between people of two countries (don’t make me say the names) through comments posted on something as harmless as a music video. And I have actually never posted a comment on a YouTube video myself. But when viewers of the above video started raving about how books will become obsolete and that in the future everything will be digitized, or about how books are not worth cutting down trees and so on, I couldn’t take it anymore. I suddenly remembered a piece of prose we had studied as a part of our English course, sometime in our 6th standard maybe. It was an excerpt from some science fiction in which two children find an actual physical book and don’t know what to do with it since they had never seen anything like that. At that point of time, it seemed laughable and far-fetched. Digital books? Books that don’t require paper? (You must understand, that was a time when we were barely learning to switch on a computer and switch it off and write instructions in BASIC language)
A decade and half later, I am flipping pages of books on my iPad. I even have a book on nature that shows me videos and provides me with commentary. And I am amazed at how just in fifteen years the seemingly impossible has happened. Suddenly, I am scared. Like I have never been before. What if that actually happens?
Agreed, ebooks have made reading so much easier for us. I am all for digitization. I mean, I read “Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix” on the tiny screen of a Nokia N70, in which I had to scroll from left to right and then back to left and then down and repeat the process again and again for all of the 766 pages, all in one night. And I am grateful for it, because that was when I couldn’t get hold of the actual book. I have a veritable library in my laptop that ranges from all the classics to the entire collection of Enid Blyton to rarities like Asterix and Obelix comics; stuff that I could never have owned physically, not yet. That someday I will write a book and buy an entire library with the money I make from it is a whole different point. But coming back to my collection, all I know is even the knowledge that I have all of it at my disposal is nothing, but nothing, compared to opening one book and sniffing at the pages and knowing that what I have in my hands is going to transport me to a whole different world. That once I am done with the pages, I will have added something to my life. Maybe a little bit more of imagination, maybe a whole new perspective on something, maybe something to think about. Whatever it is, I have all of it, right in hands. I can see it and touch it and feel it: the anticipation and the feeling of possession.
Agreed, I have also let out yelps of joy after having found an ebook I had been looking for, for ages, and have spent hours sitting in front of my laptop scrolling down page after page, and yet, when I finish a book, I invariably have an aching desire to buy it for myself. That Flipkart is what I miss the most about India should say something. It was something, to tear open the package and smell the fresh new pages each time a book was delivered. Because each time I smell a new book, I am reminded of the beginning of school sessions, when fitting brown paper covers on all the new textbooks was a festival in itself, and reading all the prose pieces in the English text books as soon as possible an absolute necessity, of book fairs and blessed discounts and mostly of my personal paradise, book shops.
I had a pretty nerdy childhood, I admit it myself. While other kids my age were playing hopscotch and hide and seek, I was drinking ginger ale and having egg sandwiches with The Famous Five, knitting socks sitting by the fire with The Little Women, and laughing at what a klutz Archie is. Since most of our books were hand-me-downs from cousins, I had even then developed a fascination for old books with their yellowed pages seeped with memories of their previous owners. I have even owned books so old their pages had started becoming brittle. Books that were scribbled on, books that had pages torn off so that most of the story was left to my imagination, books that didn’t even have a cover so I didn’t know names of: I’ve had them all. And in my heart, the only smell that can beat the one of fresh new pages is that of old pages. Old book smell makes me think of Dad’s bookshelf, and old doctor-nurse romances being stealthily read, of library books being given out in school and waiting with bated breath to see if the desired book was not already lent out to someone else, of digging into an old trunk to find my own childish doodles on some old favorite book (with “Maths With Mommy” topping that list, being the first book I ever read).
Beat that, ye digitized impersonal PDF-ed (or ePub-ed or whatever) excuse of a book. You can never lie on my tummy, opened face down, while I doze off still thinking and dreaming of you. You can never have on you scribbles from the time when crayon seemed like the greatest invention. You will never be mine, to be possessed, to be loved, to be caressed and displayed proudly on bookshelves. You will only ever be a book, and nothing more.
Written with undiminished fervor for the cause of an endangered species: the book.