Atanu Dey On India's Development

On the Handling of Books

From Keith Hudson to “Daily Wisdom” subscribers:

“As I promised myself last week, I am pensioning-off Milsted’s Dictionary of Regrettable Quotations and have bought myself the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations with a jester’s hat on the dustcover for Saturday’s random dip. The book is still so new and the binding so tight that the random page 121 (subject “Fashion”) threatens to snap shut like a mousetrap unless I place a Reebok trainer upon it to hold it open while I type from it. … ”

To: Keith Hudson


Thanks for the daily wisdom. You are really very wise and the way you express that wisdom is a joy to read.

One question connected with today’s words: did you actually use a shoe to keep the book open?



Hi Atanu,

That’s nice of you to say so. On re-reading 160 I find it a little cumbersome in places — but then I always find faults with my writing on the next day!

Yes, I did! It was the nearest thing to hand which was heavy enough and broad enough to span the opened pages. I must say, however, that it was a brand-new Reebok trainer — of glistening white and still smelling sweetly — which I’d also bought in preparation for the croquet season starting soon. (I have lately taken to the sport and play on two afternoons a week — weather permitting!)

I hope all is going well to you and yours in India,




The reason I asked whether you used a shoe is interesting considering the storm over a bunch of cartoons.

I am born and raised in India and I am born a Hindu. As part of my upbringing, I consider books to stand in for learning and the goddess of learning is Saraswati. In short, Hindus worship books as a stand-in for Saraswati. The worship of Saraswati is essentially the worship of knowledge and we don’t really confuse books with knowledge, of course. Books are things, not knowledge. One can be fully respectful of learning and knowledge without being culturally conditioned to be very careful while handling books. Yet, we treat our books with reverence. If we accidentally touch a book with our feet, we immediately pick it up and touch it with reverence. We do the same thing if we accidentally touch someone with our feet. The idea is the same: that in people, as in books, the divine exists and if we have shown disrespect, even accidentally, we need to make amends for it.

Then I got to thinking: how would I react if someone else handles a book — any book — disrespectfully, accidentally or not. I realized that it would not matter at all to me. My relationship with knowledge and learning is mine own and other people have other viewpoints and other ways of living. So if someone else does something which I would not do because I would consider it disrespectful, I would not be bothered. If they want to tear a book which belongs to them, it is their book and they are free to do whatever they want with it.

I think this attitude of mine is generally the attitude of Hindus. Unlike the cultural conditioning of Muslims, Hindus while respecting books, will not fly off the handle if others treat their copy of whatever book with irreverence. I say this in general. There will of course be a few kooks and crazies in any population — and with 800 million Hindus, it is not hard to find more than a few of those. These will stir up a storm when they find incidents that they perceive to be disrespectful of Hindu icons. But in general, Hindus generally live and let live.

Sorry, I went off in a tangent. Like I said, all this introspection was prompted by your saying that you used a shoe on a book :)

Best regards,

PS: May I have your permission to use this exchange of emails on my blog?


Hi Atanu,

Gosh! How very fascinating!

I must admit that I was puzzled as to why you asked me whether I used a Reebok trainer to keep the book open. But I hadn’t the slightest suspicion that it would open out such an interesting segment of Hindu culture and the wonderful news of worshipping the goddess Saraswati. (By the way I did not interpret your enquiry as going “off in a tangent”. I was just puzzled. I don’t know you well, nor do you me. But I know enough to know that you know I respect scholarship and knowledge!)

As mentioned before, it was a brand-new Reebok trainer. Had it been a dirty one I would not have used it because the book was also a new book! And had it been a dirty one it would not have been sitting on my desk in its brand new boix! And, of course, I look after good books very carefully. The Reebok was simply a convenient object that happened to be sitting on my desk at the time and I need something quite long and heavy to hold the opened pages down.

Yes, of course, you may use this exchange on your blog site. By the way, I agree with what you most recently wrote about Americans and their economy. Of course, many of America’s brightest minds in science, technology have been recruited from Western Europe, India, China, South Korea, etc. over the past 50 years. No wonder their state education system is going downhill fast. America has had no incentive to keep its scientific education up to scratch.

Best wishes,

  • Parvati


  • Patrix

    Excellent conversation.

  • Sanjay

    It is a subtle way of poking fun at the “religion of peace”. The book Keith inserted the sneaker in was a non-religious book. However, the followers of the ‘religion of peace’ are not so peaceful when it came to 2 incidents about the koran. One was in the US where a partly burnt koran was left abandoned with some other books in front of a mosque. The islamic organizations went into an overdrive trying to draw political mileage from this act eventhough it was a muslim student who actually left that there.

    A few months back, a few churches were burnt down by rioting muslims over the “alleged rumor” that christians burnt a koran. This turned out to be false. The rumormonger in this case was a muslim who had some dispute with a christian. How convenient, eh? Just uttering the word ‘koran’, burn, descreation is enough to turn up the fuses of these muslims. Wish there were two such words that would outrage us and show these muslims their right place.

    Atanu’s response: Poking fun at the RoP is no laughing matter, as some Danes have most recently realized. No, I would not poke fun at it. I take it most seriously, which is more than what I can say about others who don’t take it seriously.

    You may have noticed that I say it like I see it. I am not your average pseudo-secular Indian. I see the cultural imprinting of the value of learning and the derivative respect for books to be a distinct advantage of India.

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  • Donald

    I visited a very interesting site, they have a vast collection of books which have been categories and are presented to viewers in an easy-to-search format. You should check it out.