It’s an old affliction, one I’ve tried to shake off over the years.The affliction has grown to play a deciding role in many a human relationship—be it casual acquaintance, growing friendship, or the stronger pull of flirtation and its accompanying tremors.It goes something like this: I’m at given person’s home, invited over for drinks or the breezy vagueness of a brunch. Things are going well. The conversation is flowing without much coercion; the awkward manoeuvring in societal interaction has been kept to a minimum. I’m dazzling the audience with my imaginary charm and conversational sleight-of-hand. Which is when I’ll happen to glance over at said audience’s bookshelf. And that’s when the charade falls apart, the thin veneer of communal accord crashing quicker than a government-sanctioned promise.
I know—never judge a book by its cover and all. But how could that oft-used admonishment hold its ground when the selections are just so, well, jarring? And thus, many a blossoming human association has gone the way of the Indian broadcast journalist’s moral compass. Right out the window. Over the years, I’ve learnt to spot the warning signs early—a rash of Hindu mythology; a preponderance of self-help come-here do-this eat-that titles; anything that refers to half, quarter, or invented girlfriends, and anyone writing them; an injurious weightage of chick-lit, with its suspiciously anodyne pastel spines… You get the picture.
But those, and their owners, are the ones easy to discard. Things get trickier within the swelling ocean of literary fiction and feted poetry, with their star attractions. A fledgling relationship in my early twenties came to a screeching standstill when I discovered an abysmally vigorous presence of Sylvia Plath in the young woman’s bookshelf. Fearing a life of depression and a kinship with Prozac, I had to seek an early out.
Similarly, a famous friendship was put to the sword when a gander at the otherwise fine young chap’s bookshelf yielded an unhealthily hefty amount of Neruda. What, and not a single Borges? Yikes.
The episodes and their geneses have gathered like dust: too much partition literature; not enough of the Lost Generation; no women on the shelf—I could write a novel by simply listing the transgressions.
If all this is giving you the impression that I’m a horrible man, please stop. I’m wonderful, really. Full of life and poetry. Even the papers say so. So go ahead; invite me over for drinks and the breezy vagueness of a brunch. For the love of God though, just keep your bookshelves hidden.