India Uncut

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Rene and Jacques, meet Deepak

Every book should know its place, and in Indian bookshops, they often don't. I've just returned from Poona, where I spent a satisfying two hours in Crossword Bookstore (the Sohrab Hall branch). The store is large, the attendants are friendly and unintrusive, but books, I am sorry to report, don't know their place there.

I came across The First and Last by Isaiah Berlin in the Fiction section and Dr Mukti by Will Self was displayed under Indian Fiction. (Maybe they thought Dr Mukti was the author and Will Self was the book.) The last time I had been to the Crossword branch at the delightfully named Jungli Maharaj Road, such wanton behaviour by books was rampant, with Peter Carey's The True History of the Kelly Gang displayed in the History shelf, and Adam Thirlwell's Politics sitting smugly under Non Fiction, among many other such cases I've forgotten. And on my last trip to the Nalanda bookshop at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, I found The 9/11 Commission report under Fiction. Or maybe that was a political gesture.

As much as books ending up in the wrong category, I am irritated by categories themselves being abused. Most Indian bookshops do not seem to know the difference between Philosophy and Spirituality, or between Psychology and Self Improvement. So Kant often finds himself alongside Krishnamurti, while Deepak Chopra marches in proudly with Descartes and Derrida ambling sheepishly behind him. It makes for rather strange company, and I'm sure they'd all be happier among their own kind. If books could talk, these shelves would be howling.
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