Ethics invariably tend to get secondary considerations when the thickness of one’s wallet is inversely proportional to the cost of the things that one desires. This issue came to my mind recently when one of the books that I borrowed from our public library was the novel Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie. That reminded me of my days in Delhi University in the early 1980. As can be expected, my interest in reading was not matched by the content of my wallet and that forced me to look for less than respectable means to quench my thirst for reading. One such options was going to Connaught Place, or CP as it is called, where there were some roadside hawkers selling books around Janpath. They would have almost every latest fiction for sale, at a price that people could afford. I think it was 10 rupees then for a book. The printing was passable and the paper quality not very good, but it was far worth the monetary price one had to pay to read latest books.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie was one of the “in” books then and of course I got my copy from CP and relished it. Interestingly, and to my pleasure, it so happened that the author himself came to give a talk at the University around that time and it was a pleasure seeing him in person although I do not recall now what he had to say. What I do recall was an incident following his talk when it was announced that he would do a book signing. A line of people soon formed and I too joined, with my “copy” of Midnight’s Children in hand. The line moved slowly and eventually I could see Mr. Rushdie making small talks as he signed books. And then I saw something that made me drop out of the line. I don’t remember now whether this was because I had heard his actual words or whether it was a combination of words and action. The truth of the matter was that the author was refusing to sign a book brought by a person as it was a bootlegged copy. Of course, I had no doubt that the book in my hand fell into the same category. Rather than suffer the same embarrassment of a personal insult from the author, I chose the less obvious path of escape.
I, however, shamelessly continued to patronize the CP hawkers. But those were the days.
Talking about my reading experience, my thoughts go even further to my teen days. Bollywood gossip was got through the very many printed magazines like Picture Post, Filmfare, Star & Style, etc. I have some vague memory of being able to recite from memory many of the headlines of stories in the Readers’ Digest size Picture Post. Then there were comics like Phantom, which today’s generation of Americans are not familiar with, not to speak of novels by Enid Blyton.