Monday, September 19, 2016


Could that really be the case?  Could my eyes be deceiving me?

I got closer. It really was what I thought I saw.

It was a thirtyish guy, with a neatly trimmed beard, reading a hardcover book while seated on the bench by the river, with his bicycle leaning against the bench.

A sight to behold!

"That is a rare sighting" I said.

He looked up, perhaps wondering what bird has such a strange accent.

"You are reading a book!!!" I hoped he got the multiple exclamations in my voice.  These are the situations when we really need Victor Borge's punctuation guide.  But then, we cannot be haphazard with exclamation points ;)

He smiled.  "Yeah, everybody has tablets."

"Oh, they may" I replied as I walked up to him.  "But, they are playing Pokemon, not reading."

"I think you are right" he said.

I wished him a good day and continued with my walk.

We live in strange times.  It could get even stranger.  We even have a presidential candidate, whose first name might as well be Adolf, who boasts that he does not read books.

As I have often lamented, reading books is seemingly rarely ever done anymore in the old country.  Movies and cricket, and now Facebook and WhatsApp, seem to have taken over people's down times.

A couple of years ago, when discussing market mechanisms and incentives, I briefed students about the "experiment" to reward students with a dollar for every book a student read.  They were almost unanimously against it.  The students argued that kids should not think that they would do something only if there is a reward.  "If this class were not required for your graduation, then you won't be here, right? Doesn't that mean you, too, are doing it only for the reward?" I asked them, and hastily chuckled to lighten it up.  

A recent gift that I gave was a book.  In the book, I inserted a twenty-dollar bill as well.  That was more than four months ago.  I suppose a few years down the road that book might even be dropped off at some used bookstore.  And then somebody else buys that for a quarter.  This new owner of the book keeps reading and all of a sudden a twenty-dollar bill falls out.  I would like to be there when that happens ;)

Reading books is how I got to be here.  Life itself has been a wonderful reward.  I am sure the bearded bicyclist has been collecting his rewards as well.


Ramesh said...

Alas, a book reader does have the aura of being a vanishing species. The irony is that books and magazines have become so easily available. Remember, in our childhood, we would have given an arm and a leg to be able to get Time or Newsweek, or for that matter a newly released book. OK, I should add in that list Sports Illustrated as well :)

Now books and magazines are available literally at our beck and call. And affordable too. And yet reading is a declining activity. Sad.

That's an interesting experiment you did. Slip a 20 dollar bill inside a book. Must try that !!

Sriram Khé said...

What was the sports magazine when we were kids? I forget now ... Did we have Sports Illustrated in our childhood days? And then later, The Hindu came out with a sports magazine, right? I read 'em all, which might be hard to believe when I am constantly ranting against sports as entertainment ;)

Even the money inserted in a gift-book idea is from a Tamil fiction/book that I read when I was young. I thought it was a brilliant idea. In that fiction, an older man gifts a young man heading to the city a copy of the Ramayana and tells him it might console him if ever the young man feels troubled. Sure enough, troubles come his way--he loses his job in the city--and one day he starts reading the Ramayana when ... tada, there are the rupees that he so dearly needs ...

Anne in Salem said...

I find it interesting how often you talk with strangers. Definitely beyond my comfort zone.

I like the cash idea. I may try that on nieces and nephews.

Sriram Khé said...

Yep, I am way more at ease talking with strangers than I am with my unprofessional colleagues ;) I bet the colleagues have no clue how much I do small talk with all kinds of people ... hehehe

The cash in the book is a cool idea, right? Imagine the awesome happiness if/when a niece/nephew of yours finds that money in the book ...

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