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The Sinfulness of Books and other such things

While bringing us up in the middle class environs of the 70s, our parents paid a lot of emphasis on developing our internal moral compass, ably aided in this by Amar Chitra Katha. So we were told that it was very sinful to tell a lie (learn from Raja Harischandra), it was wicked to swear (our tongues used to get washed with Pears soap if we used a cuss- word, even one as innocuous as donkey) and greed, or craving anything that did not belong to us like the perfumed eraser or the mechanical sharpener which a friend’s father had got for her from his ‘foreign trip’, would immediately consign us to the innermost circle of Hades! As indeed had happened to the Kauravas, hell – bent as they were on coveting everything from their cousins’ kingdom to their wife!

Since greed was evil, it was but obvious that the objects which inspired greed were even more so. Thus anything which gave us unnecessary joy or was seen as an inessential or fell in the category of luxury was seen as BAD! I don’t think our parents did this consciously, but somehow with the Gandhian beliefs that they had been brought up with, and the struggle to ensure that we all had our fair share of roti, kapda and makaan, any indulgence was seen as wicked! I still watch TV on Sunday with the same sense of guilt which accompanied the ritual of Sunday DD movie viewing back then, since ideally we should have been preparing for the school week ahead, and not watching Rajesh Khanna wink and nod naughtily at the heroine!

In this ‘simple living , high thinking’ era, education was the leitmotif of our lives and anything that came in its way whether it was movie – watching or aspiring for fashionable clothes or even reading books for pleasure and not to improve knowledge, were all treated akin to lotus –eating and considered highly immoral.

Now I could deal with renouncing everything, but books I could not do without. I would enter a room and my eyes would immediately go to the book shelf that was the pride of any educated family at that time. I would beg my cousins to give me all their old books and endlessly search the road side stalls selling second hand books for a particular title I wanted. The milk would invariably boil over while I was watching it because I was reading a book simultaneously, and I had a below par social skill set because I would hide myself in dingy rooms and read, at all the weddings and other assorted family events I attended .

Because they gave me such happiness, naturally all this reading was accompanied by a huge sense of guilt for reasons explained above and every time I picked up a novel, even a classic Thomas Hardy whose understanding of sin of course is the mightiest of all, I would remorsefully add a few negative marks to my karma.

This sense was so strongly entrenched in my mind that both as penance and supplication to God so that He ensured I did well, I resolved not to read a single novel for the entire preparation period of my board exams! Such a difficult phase it was, but also such a virtuous one!

As time has passed this sense of sinning has of course diminished and I do realize that God will not be upset if we do things just because they give us pleasure, like travelling or buying a Birkin or indulging in that awesome lip smacking dessert, but I do wish that saintly voice in my brain would stop harping on about those shoes I picked up despite the fact that I have a pair exactly the same (albeit a different color) because I fell in love with them!