• Kuzhali Manickavel

‘well again, you have had a wonderful career. I have missed so much of it '

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

This blog post title is taken from an interview that Jiminy Glick did with Steve Martin at The American Comedy Awards sometime in 2002. I think it is wonderful because oftentimes, this is what people actually mean when they are saying all sorts of other things to you. I’m hoping to incorporate this more into my conversation as well as the phrase ‘you’re really emo.’

Anyway, I recently read this post over at the Kaleidoglide which linked to a number of other fine posts on issues of books and piracy and privilege. I think it’s neat how piracy is generally something associated with the unwashed, underprivileged and the morally reprehensible. And yet in this onenumber country, we have a lot of privileged pirates (they may be unwashed and morally reprehensible tho).

I was an extremely active patron of pirated books (I only stopped because I discovered free audiobooks, not because I decided not to be morally reprehensible anymore). I also realize that I am probs morally reprehensible writer for admitting to being a former pirate.

Apart from pirated books, my bookshelf (such that it is) contains Xeroxed books (also illegal apparently), secondhand books and craptastic original books which were bought “because they were big” (shoutout to my peeps who do this too, I know there’s at least one of you out there) because big books somehow meant that I was getting more words for my money. This is what makes you put down the Atwood novel and pick up The Superbig Big Book Of Vampires and Werewolves and Vampires And Stuff Like That because that’s somehow more reading value. I don’t really want to go into how many of those superbig books I have. I have 7. I don’t want to talk about it.

This bookshelf is partly the result of idiocy and partly the result of going to great and sometimes illegal lengths for books that were otherwise inaccessible for various reasons. If a book costs kajillions of rupees or can only be found in a library that involves a Lord of the Rings-like journey to enter, that is called inaccessible. I don’t find the fact that these books are inaccessible to be shocking. There are probably complex economic reasons for that which I can’t understand. I do find it a little strange when peeps get all #outrage over piracy and say things like ‘why can’t they just buy it like everyone else’ or ‘why can’t they just go to the library’ (I love that one. That one’s my favorite). On the other hand, why are we relentlessly pursuing these inaccessible books which clearly we are not supposed to have?

One reason could be because we are not having very much respect for IWiE books, even though they are usually (not always) cheaper. I think there is a very real feeling that IWiE is suckass when compared to English books written by other peeps. BUT!!!! A lot of the IWiE IS suckass. Wottodo.

I did not buy pirated books because I felt sorry for the vendors (which, I understand, is why some people buy them and I’m like wow, really?). I bought these books because there was no other way I could get them. I did not actively patronize book pirates as some form of activism. If these books were cheaper, I would totes have bought them in a store because I like bookstores! Really! They are way nicer than having to stand in dirty, crowded, potentially dangerous streets getting pawed and prodded, making sure you don’t get run over or step in the dogvomithumanshit or that your wallet doesn’t get nicked while trying to ignore the creepy stares from drunk dudes while you try to bring down the price from a dude who is alternately not looking at you at all and then furiously staring at your boobs. All this for a fucking book that will probs have smudged ink, wonky formatting, missing pages or as in many cases, all three. That’s fucking crazy. If someone’s willing to do all that for your book, chances are that they will be amenable to going to a bookstore and buy the original as long as it doesn’t cost them their kidneys to do so.

But Hay Gaiz! Guess What! You don’t need to be a bad book pirate! You can go to the library! Libraries are universally good things! Like good writing! If you can’t get your hands on the latest, all you need to do is skip over to the library, curl up in one of those lovely chairs provided by the management and enjoy the book! YAY! Golly gee whiz I sure do love libraries! Actually I’d rather eat my own spinal column while stabbing myself repeatedly in the eye with a dead bird than patronize a library.

My libraryhate is purely a personal thing. I went to them repeatedly because I used to love them so much I can’t even say. I gave them my time and my money and they took everything and they broke my heart. They lied. They let me down. They broke my heart. I aint naming any names because I don’t want the English library mafia coming after me. Also these are my experiences, based on certain libraries during certain periods of time. It is my sincerest hope that other people have more positive experiences than I have had.

School/College Libraries- Ragged collections of locked bookcases filled with books that looked like they must have been all the rage in 1745. The End. I believe that the bookcase keys often played hide and seek with the library ledger which is maybe why people forgot that these bookcases could actually be opened and the books could be taken out.

Government Libraries are Government- These are great places to go if you want to look at books that have no pages in them. Where the pages went? People ripped them out and put them in their pocket and went home where they can do their research/studying in more comforts. There are of course books that still have pages in them but these books are no longer in the library. They have been lackadaisically spirited away and are in better places because apparently, the easiest thing in the world to do is flick English books from certain government libraries. Contrary to other libraries, these places actually kinda encourage you to read as long as you take the books (or at least the pages) with you and don’t come back and bother them again.

The Foreign Embassy Library- What could possibly be weirder than getting racist treatment in a phoren embassy library by your own brothersister brown peepal? Going back again and again to said establishment for getting same treatment like it is some candychocolate. But it’s going to take more than silly racism to keep me away! Because these people clearly did not want me in their libraries, grubbing up the books and the carpet and that imported phoren air with my dusty thirdworldness. Why else would they charge are-you-fucking-kidding-me rates for library cards? Other things they did to make these libraries superaccessible was to make it as hard as possible to physically get into the building and also to employ peeps with fullon Govt. Office Attitude, which I can get for free at places like the post office. Also worthy to note that these libraries were often shelf upon shelf of books that made one wonder if these embassies are dumping their garbage, outdated meds, toxic packaged food AND fuckall books here. Fuck you, foreign embassy library. Just, fuck you.

Private Lending Libraries that Offer More Than M&Bs, Sidney Sheldon, Ruth Rendell, Agatha Christie and PD James (Beedi James. LOLOLOLO)- These are the unicorns of libraries. I heard they exist but they apparently exist in very secret, magical places and only very special people are allowed in. To sign up, you have to take a blood oath which I understand is basically ‘keep it secret, keep it safe’ only it involves sacrificing a portion of your tongue at some point. If you offer up your first born and your liver, you get to take the book home. If you return the book early and in perfect condition but not early enough, they will slaughter your entire family. Twice.

Also, I doubt whether this somehow automatically reflects the sad state of libraries all over the India. Why because means in one little area I know of which somehow could never get its shit together in terms of setting up proper garbage disposal and sewer systems somehow had it together enough to set up a library (Tamil books and newspapers), which is used often and used well. Which kinda goes to show that we can if we want to, no? Or maybe we can’t when it comes to English books. I don’t know.

Ok, now I am going to be all contradictory and say I don’t think book piracy is a good thing. I say this as a writer with a book and also a reader who actively bought many pirated books- it sucks for an author to lose money (especially if they are not making much in the first place) and pirated books, in most cases, are not worth it. You just buy it because you reallyreally want to read the book.

I think shouting people down by saying ‘stop book piracy!’ is about as effective as ‘just say no to drugs’. It completely underestimates how deep the piracy issue is, why it’s happening and how badly some people want their books. If this is all about hip and swinging capitalism (ain’t no shame), doesn’t piracy mean there’s something wrong with the system? And if it is morally reprehensible to buy a pirated book, why is it not morally reprehensible to charge 900 rupees for that same book in its original form? If we can’t afford 900 bucks a pop for a book, does that mean we’re just not privileged enough to read and we should shut up and go away? When will people stop telling us to go to the library? Stop telling us to go to the fucking library!!! 

So to conclude, I want to apologize. This blog post is just really whiney and offers no solutions though it offers problems and some questions and that’s really annoying. Also, in an effort to redeem myself as a serious writer, I just want to say