Atanu Dey On India's Development

On the not reading of big fat books

| 59 Comments

People don’t need a 1/4″ drill bit; they need a 1/4″ hole. That observation made by a business school professor (I forget who) is a perpetual favorite of mine. It cautions us against confusing means and ends. I believe that much misery of our mundane lives arises from our inability to distinguish between means and ends. Let me tell you a story. Stop me if you have heard it before — which you may have since I repeat it often enough.
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The village nut-case, when offered a choice between a dime and a nickel, always took the nickel. The villagers were much amused and just for the laughs they played the trick on the poor fellow dozens of time every day.

One day, a kindly villager took the fellow aside and said, “You really are an idiot. Don’t you know that although the dime is smaller than the nickel, it is worth two nickels. You should take the dime.”

The guy said, “The first time I take the dime instead of the nickel, that will be the last time I will be offered a choice between a nickel and the dime. I may be crazy but I am not stupid.”

Choosing the nickel was merely a means, not an end.

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A friend just mailed me about a new book by a very erudite author, and I was reminded of that story.

I have not read the book but going by its short blurb, I am totally convinced that the book is extremely valuable. Or rather, the message and the main thesis of the book is timely and important, and must be understood by tens of millions of people.

The book is 650 pages long and priced at Rs 795. Too bad it will be bought by only a few thousand people, if the author is lucky. Of that very small number, an even smaller percentage — serious scholars perhaps — will actually read the whole book, and the author will be extraordinarily lucky if more than a couple of hundred ordinary people read the book in its entirety.

If the end was to publish a big fat book for scholars to admire (and perhaps read), then it is brilliant. But if the end was to get the message across to the millions who need to get it, the big fat book is absolutely the wrong way to go about it.

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Imagine if the message of the book was delivered in a handy little package of 50 pages, and modestly priced at Rs 30. Most messages can be condensed without loss of meaning or comprehensibility. Further imagine that the first 5 pages of the book expressed the main story even more compactly.

Standing in the aisle at the bookstore, you read those first few pages and buy the book. You finish reading the book later that day. You love the ideas, they make you think, and you determine that you are going to take some action about the matter discussed in the book. The first action you take is to spread the book around.

You give it to your wife. She reads it and passes it on to her friend who after reading it passes it on to her son. By the end of the week, the book you bought on an impulse has been read by a dozen people.

In the end, that one book which cost Rs 30 at the store influenced 30 people by the end of the month. Cost of message delivered only one rupee per person.

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There are many books which are important enough that they should be available in a wide range of languages. Translating large works is expensive. But since the main theses of most most books can be condensed into short books, getting the message across to people in various languages becomes easier.

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Here’s an idea. I am going to start a press called “Not a Big Fat Book Press” — the NBFB Press. It will take big fat books with important messages, condense them to 50 pages, and publish them in handy little packages. You could carry a couple with you to read any time you find a few minutes to spare. The price of each book will be a modest Rs 30.

The NBFB Press will also publish translated versions of the books. And all of these will be available both in hard copy and soft copy.

We could also have special lending libraries based out of neighborhood grocery stores. They will keep a collection of NBFB books in the local language. For Rs 2, you could borrow any book.

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Why do we need NBFB?

Because we need to get ourselves a decent education. The government has ruined our education system and while it will be a long time before we fix it, we can at least enable people to learn what they need to learn by making good content available and accessible.

I believe that a reasonable remedial education programs would require us to read around 100 books. At 400 pages each on average, that would mean 40,000 pages. At one book a month, that means it will take 8 years to read them.

Using the NBFB versions of the book, it will take only one year to get nearly the same education.

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What BFB would you like to see NBFB Press publish?

UPDATE 24th Jan 9 AM IST:

Thanks for the excellent suggestions and comments. A bit of clarification in response to some of the comments posted.

The NBFB Press is only for works that convey important ideas so that they become more accessible. It is not meant for works of literature, although one can have condensed versions to serve as an introduction to important works of literature. Shakespeare has to be read in the original, for instance, and shortening it makes no sense.

Amazon Kindle Singles is something along the lines of what I am suggesting. But they are not suitable for the masses in India — too expensive and not really accessible since only a few in India can afford a Kindle. More importantly, the value addition would be the selection of books which the NBFB Press will publish.

The books have to be those which correct the distortions that a government-controlled education system has introduced into the brains of the masses.

  • http://AjitJadhav.wordpress.com Dr. Ajit R. Jadhav

    Ashish,

    0. Nice to know about you.

    You said:

    …but I follow my own reason. Is that always right? Of course not. Does it mean I should blindly believe in someone else? Of course not. …

    I understand where you are coming from, and even agree with you, and yet, couldn’t resist adding a few side comments about it here.

    1. The policy of applying reason to every fact, every issue, every opinion, is always right.

    Now, the specific conclusions a man draws may perhaps be wrong. But there is no way to correct these except through the exercise of (one’s own) reason itself.

    Man is not infallible. Sure. But this fact does not go to make omniscience (a non-identity, a nothing) the proper standard of judging anything. Seen in this light, following one’s own reason is always right.

    2. The first (or the fundamental) relation of (one’s own) reason is to reality, not to consciousness(es), whether others’—or one’s own.

    Blind belief in someone else is not right, not primarily because it is a belief in someone else, but rather because it is blind—i.e. because reason has been inoperational in such a case. Exactly for the same reason, blind belief in one’ own self also is not right.

    3. One final point. Differing views of reason itself are possible—and most of them are not right.

    For example, in India, rationality has often been shown and understood in a very materialistic light—whether by the materialists themselves, or by their spiritualistic opponents. Their commonality is that they both share a wrong view of reason. This view of reason itself suffers from a serious case of the mind-body (or soul-body) dichotomy.

    On the other hand, in Ayn Rand’s view, the scope of reason indeed is both very fundamental and very broad (and very right): she regarded reason as a faculty of identification and integration of the perceptually evident.

    Bye for now!

    [E&OE]

  • http://www.indianliberals.org Ashish Deodhar

    Kaffir

    1. Reason must always have a context. You are going on with your vitriol against readers of Rand because I brought it up. You had said in one of your previous comments addressed to me, “Just like members of any other cult, Randroids like you are equally entitled to their blind beliefs, delusions and irrational thinking.”

    Now in that context, it gives me sufficient reason to believe that your “hypothesis” applies to me too. But anyway, thanks for clarifying that it’s just an hypothesis. Good to know that you are not certain of what you are saying! :)

    2. Where did you get an idea that I concluded that you concluded that that was wrong? :D (trust me, we could go on and on with this until Atanu kicks one of us out)

    3. I don’t agree with such labelling as Randroid. ‘Whatever that means’ was sarcasm. I agree with much of what Rand has to say but as I said earlier, I agree with her because she reflects my world view, not the other way round. In that sense, I am as much a Randroid as Rand is a Deodharroid (before you write another panicky reply, let me clarify that that was sarcasm too) :)

    4. Absolutely no comments. Are you writing a thesis or something on “Randroids”? With all your hypothesis and observations etc.? Makes me wonder if you are spending an obsessive amount of time studying people you don’t really think much of.

    5. Again, sarcasm. Allow me the liberty of my own observations and hypothesis (sarcasm, again :) ) to conclude that for all pseudo-Hindus, everything that’s good about India is because of our wonderful ancient civilisation and everything that’s not-so-good is because of the British or the Moghuls or anyone else who doesn’t wear khakhi chaddis.

    6. Oh and thanks for visiting my blog and spending time to read stuff. :)

    From your next comment, you attempted to break it down but couldn’t do so reasonably. I said that I am anti-irrational and IF that’s (anti-irrational) is anti-Hindu, then yes (it flows logically that) I am anti-Hindu. It depends on how you view Hinduism. If you think it’s all rational, then you shouldn’t consider me anti-Hindu. If you think it’s irrational, then I am.

    Your comment suggests that you consider Hinduism to be irrational and yet you defend it. Which suggests that you defend irrational! But anyway, to each his own. :)

    Dr. Jadhav

    Yes you are right. When I said “Is that always right?”, it was the conclusion that I was implying. I reach conclusions following my own reason. Are those conclusions always right? Not necessarily. But I am solely responsible for those conclusions. Hope that clarifies.

  • Kaffir

    Ashish,

    1. There’s no vitriol against readers of Rand – there’s some plain speaking regarding Randriods and their skewed view. Everyone should read all kinds of books, including those written by Rand.

    2. On to context. My comment had a context too, which you have ignored or missed. Please read larissa’s comment and my response. That was the context. See, I won’t even tell you that you butted into our conversation, and make the irrational mistake you made. :)

    3. Whether you agree or disagree with “such labeling as Randroid” is irrelevant and immaterial. You can disagree till you are blue in the face (and that’s your entitlement), but who cares regarding what you think about that term? Seems to me that you are the one being irrational here.

    4. Newsflash for you: anyone with even an iota of intelligence knows that sarcasm is wasted on the internet. But please continue to display your fetish of rationality. (<–this is not sarcasm)

    5. As for reading your blog, I do need my daily dose of amusement and humor. And the double dose of pompous and ponderous posts of yours keep me entertained; for example, two "intellectuals" splitting hairs and fighting over whether Islamic terrorism is a real threat or not, in numerous paragraphs, when it is quite obvious to the most casual observer that it is indeed a threat. Reminds me of Kabir's doha on reading pothis. So, please continue to write prodigiously and frequently. :D

    6. You wrote: “It depends on how you view Hinduism. If you think it’s all rational, then you shouldn’t consider me anti-Hindu. If you think it’s irrational, then I am.”

    Umm…as I wrote before, Hinduism is not something that can be reduced to only rituals or practices, so the question of it being irrational or rational is itself irrational. That’s the mistake you Randroids make, in your eagerness of selective picking to fit your pre-conceived ideas. But thanks for validating my observation of Randroids.

    Now go out and enjoy the rest of your day.

  • http://Www.indianliberals.org Ashish Deodhar

    Kaffir

    Good. As long as we agree that everyone should read all kinds of books (and by extension atleast be open to a new line of thinking), I don’t have much to argue about. The rest of your gibberish doesn’t deserve a response so will leave it here.

    And yes you are always welcome to my blog, for whatever reasons you seem fit. I will be happy to continue to see you there. If not, that’s even better :)

    Ciao

  • Kaffir

    Ashish,

    I totally understand. If you ever tire of that raging hard-on you have for Rand, possibly you will start to wrap your head (not that one, you silly goose) around “gibberish.” Till then, continue with your wet-dreams of Galt and chants of “भज secularism, भज secularism.”

  • http://www.esamskriti.com sanjeev nayyar

    Very good suggestion Atanu. Wish it is implemented by authors in India.

  • Sudhir Chukkapalli

    How about animated videos like this?

    https://www.23andme.com/gen101/genes/

  • http://vichaarr.blogspot.com/ Ritesh

    I am ready to sponsor this NBFB Publishing. And if you want any help in setting it up in India, let me know. And if we have it already, please let me know, I can pitch in.

  • SB

    Atanu,
    Have you heard of Bill Warner and his website: http://www.politicalislam.com. This man is analytically examining Islam’s political doctrine and doing for Islam what you are suggesting in this post.
    He has already published a simplified Quran, Hadith and Sira. (Each not more than 50-100 pages).
    You should really check his books out.