Now that February has been over for a while, I think it is safe for me to spill my secret.
February has ended and with it has ended the craziness called "boi mela" when one and all throng the book fair and spend thousands or even tens of thousands of Takas to make it possible for the publishers to make their next Europe trip, or buy the latest Toyota Camry. The poor writers of course stay poor. They are sometimes wined and dined in some posh hotels or clubs in the city and that's that.
So, here is my secret.
I don't read books. There, I said it. In fact, I hate books. I think books are overrated. And this aversion to books has been a lifelong affair with me. I also have a sneaking suspicion, books hate me too. They don't want to stay with me.
Granted, my relations with books is not that much vaunted "till death do us part" thingy, but at least they can hang around my home until I get a chance to read their flaps and the blurbs to go, and talk with my learned friends who will get into serious discussions on the latest or not so recent books they have read and how the book or the writer has brought about a serious turn of events in the history of literature.
They will talk about the writers themselves as if they were their best friends.
I try my best to ignore their tedious talks and sip my latte, until they ask my opinion on the postmodernist interpretation of such and such or what I think of Foucault's views on punishment and social control or even the deconstructionist view of Derrida or some exotic name I haven't even heard of and look at me expectantly from under their thick glasses as if I were about to spill some pearls of wisdom.
To their utter dismay, I can only say to my writer friends: "Look, I don't read books. Besides, nobody became rich by reading books."
"Do your books contribute one iota to the national GDP? No.
Yes, it helps your publisher "friends" get richer and richer. But you have been wearing this shirt since we left the uni, aren't you?"
After that an icy silence descends on the table and I am sure they are not going to call me ever again to any meet of their sharp minds. But that's okay with me.
Like I said, books are overrated.
After all, what is a book but the combination of letters printed on some dead trees, or lately, displayed by illuminated pixels.
I have been told a million monkeys hitting the keyboards of a million typewriters could produce the whole works of Shakespeare in a million years. Be that as it may, books don't impress me as they do those who hold them in veneration and undue adoration.
Don't get me wrong. I do have a few books myself. Those that I could save from the eager grasps of my friends whenever they visit me. As soon as they enter my living room, their eyes would fall on my bookshelf - yes, I do have one - and they would make a beeline to it as if they had heard the siren song.
"Oh, I see you have this book." they would say. And then utter the most dreaded sentence next. "May I borrow it?"
"Borrow it?" You mean take it and never return, don't you? I'll break your arm, you so and so if you ever touch it.
As I told you earlier, I have short, torrid affairs, maybe even one-night stands with my books and then they, I mean my books, disappear.
So if I hate books so much, why do I have them around?
I use the OED to prop up the broken leg of my table. It is the perfect thickness and my kagojwala gave it to me for a dime, so to speak. It has served me well over the years.
I have occasionally thrown them at the insolent rats that like to nest in my dump of a room, with good results I must say. I used to play basketball at college and it comes in handy to make good shots.
In my uni days, my female friends have borrowed many books from me with the excuse that it was too sunny and they needed one of the books I was carrying to shade their faces while walking to their dorms. Ok fine. You are too forgetful to bring your mickey mouse umbrella with you, so take it. I am a kind soul. But somehow they would forever forget to bring those books back. I am thinking of you, Trina!
And Rakib, my friend! One late night, you "borrowed" my Encyclopedia of Crimes over my protestations and started your long walk home to Bangshal. And when the infamous Dhaka muggers stopped you at Chan Khar pool corner to relieve you of your possessions, you hit them on the head with the hard bound volume and fought off their knife attacks with it. I am glad that you escaped with minor scrapes and cuts but my collection of encyclopedias will forever be missing the 13th volume. There is a reason I haven't reached out to you in the last 40 years.
And Nasima, I hear your marriage is on the rocks. I can't feel too sorry about that. After all, you were trying to heat up your baby's milk late at night when there was a prolonged power failure and your latest, imported from England, milk warmer wasn't working. But my friend, you tore up the pages of your hubby's precious first edition of Geetanjali to heat the milk, for god's sake!
But let's go back to my not so congenial relation with books. I had a hard time learning to read. I could not read anything at all. My parents were not very kind with my inability, nor were the teachers. My poor backside learnt more about pain than I did anything of reading. Finally it was discovered I needed glasses to read.
What can I say? Sigh!