WELCOME TO Chandigarh. First of all, for the record, let’s be clear: we speak better English than you, have better accents than you; we are better off than you; we are probably better looking and better dressed than you. We’re certain we have more cars per person than you; our maids and gardeners and rickshawallahs have more cell phones than yours.
Sadly, you missed us when the TEHELKA survey on reading came calling, for we were then busy driving, SMS-ing, lounging in front of television sets watching so many beautifully dressed women being traumatised. We did not get time to rush to the three-odd bookshops we have to purchase our copies of ‘The White Paper Tiger’ (that latest book, you know) from their “Latest Releases” shelves. These bookshops do have sections marked “Poetry”, “Fiction” and so on, but really, where is the time? On the odd occasion that we do wander into these stores we barely get time to leaf through the latest international fashion and automobile magazines.
Over the past year, there have been several literary events and book launches in the city, or so we have heard. There was even (reportedly) a two or three day seminar on the theme of “The Author in Search of an Audience”, but what to do? Our days are already filled with our thirst for the latest; with LCDs, SUVs, KFCs, CCDs, DVDs, MP3s and LOLs. That tires us out, which is why we seriously doubt we will be reading for pleasure any day soon. Actually we doubt we will be reading at all.
We’re sorry if our lack of interest in reading comes as a disappointment to you for we know you are of a somewhat serious and overly-caring nature (would you be south Indian by any chance? We hear they read for pleasure).
Of course, if it is any consolation, with land prices being what they are, there are scores of young people here with money to burn. You may have seen them around our many hair and beauty salons. They do purchase and study self-help and learn-to-speak English books when not listening to Bhangra music on their car stereos.
If you are looking for the serious, committed sort of reader, you might want to drop by at that socialist bookshop near the bus stand, but these are mostly the older, Punjabi and Hindi speaking sorts. We don’t think they have Internet access even if they do have laptops at home. That probably frees up a lot of their time to read Punjabi or Hindi magazines, or fiction, or poetry, or even do some writing themselves. Some of them even appear to enjoy reading in English and may mention names like Knut Hamsun in conversation!
Why don’t we read, you ask? How should we know? It could be the times we live in. It could be new technology and new pastimes. It could be that we are far more occupied (yes, even in Chandigarh), for there are jobs to be done, money to be made, things to be acquired. We have a lot of catching up to do. The West has already created its generation of functionally illiterate consumers who don’t need the written word. Isn’t that what we too are aspiring to?
Sidhu is a Chandigarh and Toronto-based writer