Once, a well-meaning gentleman from Belarus, who had read my books and who appreciates them immensely, suggested to me that I should spend money and launch myself big time in Rourkela, because this is how all great authors like Mark Twain, Charles Dickens etc grow. First they become popular in their hometown, then in their state, their country, and then the whole world, in that order.
I replied to him that nothing would be more foolhardy and counterproductive than to spend my hard earned money in trying to promote myself in my hometown. The following excerpt from my book 'The Next Door Raghu' will amply illustrate and explain why, provided you have the patience to read on (And which I don't expect from most of you in this era of Acute Attention Deficit). I did not mention the so called 'Self Help' books that many in India buy n read in a vain hope that somehow their reading of the book will enable them to be able to manipulate, influence, and imbalance others, thereby making the reader rich and/or influential. I am yet to come across anybody who has become rich and/or influential by reading these so called 'Self Help' books. I did not mention this curious n dubious phenomena in the book, as it is a book meant primarily for children, and I do not want to obfuscate them. I will continue to reach out to the book loving world, as I know in my heart that the local territory is a barren wasteland. :-)
Anyway, as is the norm in India, Rourkela also did not boast of any serious involvement or any robust interest in art or serious literature, and the reading habit was certainly not something that stimulated the minds or fired the imaginations of most people. Most Indians like to spend their spare time gossiping, arguing, and sometimes even coming to blows, while discussing about world affairs, world politics, military conflicts and standoffs in faraway and remote nations, and other local rumors, illicit romances of aunties, etc, and many such things which are in no way concerned with them or their lives. Settling down with a good book is not our natural numero-uno choice for either revving up a jaded mind, and neither is reading a book very popular for resting and entertaining a frayed and tired mind, for a vast majority of us. The only books that most of us have read are the text books that were forced down our throat, and we had absolutely no choice other than to read them, if we ever wanted to amount to anything in our life. So, like it is in the rest of India, the definition of books began and ended with academic and school text books for a vast majority of the general populace in Rourkela. And it was not their fault either. The constant strife and unending struggle to make both ends meet in a developing country meant that art, literature, music, and craft, all had to be given a go by. Parents took extra to ensure care that their wards do not wander off into the realms of art, music, craft, and literature, and then completely lose their way, only to end up as big losers and ciphers in the rat race called ‘life in a poor country’. This was unacceptable and untenable. Most parents banished radios, magazines, tape-recorders, story books etc. from their house, from the moment their kids started school. Prevention is always better than cure. The risk of a child wandering off and being waylaid by the world of art, literature, music, and culture, and even sports, was fearsome, humongous, scary and overbearing, and also very frighteningly ominous. Every effort had to be made to keep the kids away from all this rubbish that would eventually send them into a downward tailspin of abject poverty and inconsequentiality.
The sum grand result of all this was that, even the Book Fairs in Rourkela were a place where people went into in droves, and after travelling from great distances, and after they had paid the entry fees, and then gone in, but only in the hope of landing some kind of a screaming cheap deal on some dirt cheap notebooks, cheap text books, and other school books and academic books. The Book Fairs here would be rife with parents jostling with each other, scouring for cheap note books and school books that were so prolific and available at such a throw away price, and also so dirt cheap in such a way that their initial investment of entry fees and the cost of transportation, both to and from the fair, would be more than adequately compensated and also even exceeded by the profits from the deals. The baying and hollering parents would wreak all hell loose at the Book Fair Grounds. The Book Fair would literally be taken over by the over-enthusiastic and edgy parents with their war cries of ‘Chemistry Books??’, ‘Physics Books??’, ‘Math, Math? Where are Math text books?’, ‘Cheap Notebooks?’, ‘Where are the Cheap Notebooks?’, ‘Where are the Russian text books? WHERE???????’, and so on and so forth. Every expectant father and mother would be extra vigilant that their ward gets the very best of study books and study guides. Another objective of the demanding and overzealous parents was to steal that deal on that very rare and very cheap and very hard to source text book, before anyone else could. The game plan was to create an unfair advantage for one’s children, while simultaneously disadvantaging the children of all the other rival parents. This was particularly true for the rare and highly treasured Russian text books on Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry etc. like the ones by Russian authors Irodov, Maximov, Daibov, etc. Only half a dozen copies would be available in the entire Book Fair. Sometimes an overzealous and overambitious parent with a very vile, deviant, perverted, scheming and deceitful bend of mind, would buy up all the six copies of the rare and extremely difficult to source book, just to ensure that nobody else gets their hand onto the ‘Holy Grail’. And for good reason too. The competition among children in India to get admission into a good professional course like medicine or engineering is so tough, and is so stiff, that even a minuscule advantage like the exclusive possession of one rare Physics text book by Irodov could mean the difference between success and failure, and sometimes even between life and death. The burgeoning population of India, along with its scanty resources, has made life one endless grating and grinding hellhole for most children of India, except may be in the case of the children of the very moneyed and the highly privileged. This is the harsh reality of our India, where more often than not, the weight of the child’s school bag exceeds the weight of the little child. Millions of childhoods have been robbed, millions of childhoods are being robbed, and several billions of childhoods shall also be robbed in the future, in this desperate country with a flawed value system and skewed education system. There is an abject lack of any social protection by the state, which spends the entire honest taxpayer’s money on anybody and everybody who do not pay any taxes and everybody except the tax payers themselves, and which has resulted in this woeful and pathetic state of the affairs. Democracy is the government by the majority of people, and the majority usually consists of an assorted bandwagon of crooks, scoundrels, scalawags, and shortsighted fools. The shocking and abysmal lack of absolutely any kind of governmental support for the honest taxpayer, including after their retirement, meant that for most among the Indian parents, the generosity and the largesse of their children was going to be their only pension plan, their only retirement benefit, and their only old age provident fund source. But in order to ensure this, they needed to get their children well established with ‘permanent jobs’, before they could expect any kind of gratuity from them. The inept governance of the country where the honest taxpayers, who are anyway in a hopeless minority, are treated like milch cows or the proverbial ‘The Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs’, and then completely neglected when it came to extending any kind of state support, has led to this appalling state of affairs and is directly responsible, for at least in a part, for the miseries of school and college students in this Great Nation of India.

And also while at the Book Fair, the children would be conspicuous by their almost near complete and curious absence! One would be lucky, if one were to spot even half a dozen kids in the whole Book Fair ground.



  1. Sadly true, but poignantly told.