Colour of India

Colour of India

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Vasanth Dev

As a dedicated cinematographer, scholar, literary critic, lover and collector of books of all kinds, Vasanth Dev loves life in all its manifestations. He loves the sun, the cool breeze, the sea, and warmth, and light; hates cold darkness, physical, intellectual, moral, political. Right from his college days, he has loved freedom, individuality, independence, and detested everything that seemed to him to cramp and constrict the forces of human vitality and enthusiasm. He believes in the fullness of life with a penchant for romantic exaggeration. Generous and warm-hearted, he has much pride. Yet he is free from all vanity and snobbery. Simple, natural and unselfconscious, everything about him is sincere, unusual and absolutely authentic. His un-calculating character, his distinction as a thinker, his nobility as a human being----I can describe these and other qualities which Vasanth Dev possesses in ample abundance as an inimitable quality of moral charm that makes all my intellectual dealings with him delightful.

As a talker, Vasanth Dev is superb and incomparable. His wit is verbal and cumulative. His words come in short, sharp bursts of precisely aimed, concentrated fire, as image, pun, metaphor and parody. He talks like an encyclopaedia. Yet at the same time he is always courteous, serious and charming. During an animated intellectual conversation his body and face movements and other gestures and above all his words radiate a kind of dignity and humanity which bring all his sensitive hearers under his spell. During one of those sessions, he spoke about books which are his personal favourites. I am presenting below the list of personal favourites of Vasanth Dev.
1. The Education of Henry Adams Henry Adams

2. The varieties of Religious Experience William James

3. A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolfe

4. Silent Spring Rachel Carson

5. Black Boy Richard Wright

6. The Guns of August Barbara Tuchman

7. Working Studs Terkel

8. Religion and the rise of Capitalism R.H, Tawney

9. The Elements of Style William Strunk & E.D.White

10. The Second World War Winston Churchill

11. Goodbye to all that Robert Graves

12. A Mathematician’s Apology D.H.Hardy

13. All Rivers Run To The Sea Ellie Wiesel

14. The Acqusitive Society R.H.Tawney

15. The Tibetan Book of the Dead W.I.Evans Wentz

16. American Political Tradition Richard Hofstadter

17. The Gods and their Grand Design Erich Von Daniken

18. Chariots of the Gods? Erich Von Daniken

19. Face to Face Ved Mehta

20. Perennial Philosophy Aldo Huxely

21. Vedanta for Modern Man Christopher Isherwood

I have already touched upon five(5) out of the twenty one (21) books listed above---The Education of Henry Adams, Silent Spring, Black Boy, Religion and the rise of Capitalism and All Rivers Run To The Sea. Let me now take up a few more books from the above list of Vasanth Dev’s favourites.

  Front cover of the book in Vasanth Dev's library

Studs Terkel (1912-2008)

Vasanth Dev told me that he is very fond of Studs Terkel’s book called WORKING: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. This was published in 1974. This book is a classic instance of oral economic and social history. It is an exploration of what makes work meaningful for people in all walks of life: from Lovin' Al the parking valet, to Dolores the waitress, from the fireman to the business executive etc. The gripping human narratives in this book move constantly between mundane details, emotional truths and existential questioning.

Studs Terkel (1912-2008) was a noted oral historian, author, actor and radio broadcaster. He won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985 for The Good War, and is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans.

In his introduction to this book WORKING, Studs Terkel wrote movingly as follows: “This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us. The scars, psychic as well as physical, brought home to the supper table and the TV Set, may have touched, malignantly, the soul of our society. More or Less. (‘More or less’, that most ambiguous are phrases, pervades many of the conversations that comprise this book, reflecting, perhaps, an ambiguity of attitude towards The Job. Something more than Orwellian acceptance, something less than Luddite sabotage. Often the two impulses are fused in the same person.)”

Studs Terkel’s book is about the toiling workmen of America. It is about the search, two, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor. As Studs Terkel puts it “In short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too is part of the quest. To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, of the heroes and heroines of this book”.

When Studs Terkel published his work in 1974 Richard Nixon was the American President. He paid his tribute to Studs Terkel in these words: “We learn from his book what is work ethic. Work ethic holds that labour is good in itself; that a man or woman becomes a better person by virtue of the act of working. We come to understand from this book that America’s competitive spirit, ‘the work ethic’ of our people, is alive and well.” (President Nixon on Labour Day 1974)

Cover Page of Graves’s Autobiography          Robert Graves (1895-1985)
     Book in Vasanth Dev's Library

Good-Bye to All That is an autobiography by Robert Graves which first appeared in print in 1929. The bulk of the autobiography deals with Graves' service in the army during the First World War. This must rank as one of the most outstanding first-hand accounts of that war in English. Graves's insight into the psychology of life in the trenches is unsurpassed. Graves was severely traumatized by his war experience.

It is a permanently valuable work of literary art, an indispensable for the historian of both the First World War and of modern English Poetry. Apart from its exceptional value as a World War I Document, this book has a lasting interest of being one of the most candid self-portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted. The sketches of friends of Robert Graves, like T.E Lawrence of Arabia are beautifully vivid.

Robert Graves published his autobiography in 1929 at the age of 33. Twenty eight years later in 1957 he wrote: “I am always glad to report that little of outstanding autobiographical interest has happened since……..’Goodbye to All That’ reads as ripe as ancient history now….I do not seem to have changed much, mentally or physically, though I can no longer read a newspaper without glasses, or run upstairs 3 steps at a time….And if condemned to relive those lost years I should probably behave again in very much the same way; a conditioning in the Protestant morality of the English Governing Classes, though qualified by mixed blood, a rebellious nature, and an overriding poetic obsession, is not easily overgrown.”

Vasanth Dev told me with a satisfied smile “From the moment of its first appearance in 1929, Good-Bye to All That became an established classic”.

Cover of Book by William Strunk Jr. and E.B White in Vasanth Dev's Library


William Strunk Jr. (1869-1946)                                                 E.B.White (1899-1985)

Till Vasanth Dev invited my attention to The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, I was not aware of the existence of this very beautiful and exciting work. The Elements of Style (1918) by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, is an American English writing style guide. It is one of the best-known and most influential prescriptive treatment of English grammar and usage, and often is required reading in U.S. high school and university composition classes.

William Strunk Jr. (1869-1946) was Professor of English at Cornell University and is best known as the author of the first edition of The Elements of Style, a best-selling guide to English usage. This book, printed as a private edition in 1918 for the use of his students, became a classic on the local University campus, known as "the little book", and its successive editions have since sold over ten million copies.

In his first edition, Strunk described the book as follows: "It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention ... on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated." The original 1918 edition of The Elements of Style detailed eight elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition, “a few matters of form”, and a list of commonly "misused" words and expressions.

This original 1918 Edition was revised in 1935 by Strunk and Edward A. Tenney and published under the title The Elements and Practice of Composition. William Strunk served as literary consultant to the 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film version of Romeo and Juliet. After Strunk's death in 1946, it was again revised by E. B. White, an Editor at The New Yorker . In 1957 at The New Yorker magazine, this style guide attracted the attention of writer E. B. White, who had studied writing under William Strunk in 1919, but had since forgotten the "little book" that he described as a "forty-three-page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English".This 1959 edition of The Elements of Style (often referred to as simply Strunk & White) became a companion to millions of American writers and college freshmen.

I have described Strunk and White above as beautiful and exciting. It is not without reason that I am using these adulatory adjectives. In the 1959 edition of The Elements of Style (Strunk & White), E.B White wrote a brilliant concluding Chapter V to the book under the title “An Approach to Style” in which he wrote as follows: ”Up to this point, the book has been concerned with what is correct, or acceptable, in the use of English. In the final Chapter, we approach style in its broader meaning: style in the sense of what is distinguished and distinguishing. Here we leave solid ground. Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind? Who knows why certain notes in music are capable of stirring the listener deeply, though the same notes slightly rearranged are impotent? These are high mysteries, and this Chapter is a mystery story, thinly disguised. There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rule by which the young writer may shape his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion”.

What is style? E.B White gave this bracing answer in his final Chapter: ”Style is an increment in writing, When we speak of Fitzgerald’s style, we don’t mean his command of the relative pronoun, we mean the sound his words make on paper. Every writer, by the way he uses the language, reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation----it is the Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.”

In conclusion I would say that The Elements of Style (Strunk & White) should be the daily companion of anyone who writes for a living and, for that matter, anyone who writes at all. No wonder The New Yorker literary magazine paid this tribute to Strunk and White: “The work remains a nonpareil: direct, correct, and delightful.”

The range of literary, intellectual and aesthetic interests of my friend Vasanth Dev is truly amazing. He told me that in the early days of his youth in the 1970’s he came under the spell of Erich Von Daniken’s books. Vasanth Dev says: “Though Erich Von Daniken has written several books, yet my two personal favourites are Chariots of the Gods and The Gods and their Grand Design. In his Chariots of the Gods, more than thirty years ago, Erich von Däniken presented his theory of extraterrestrial contact with the ancient world --- a theory so incredible yet so logical that it has become part of a wide ranging debate in several areas of knowledge today. His examination of ancient ruins, forgotten texts, and other archeological anomalies points to evidence of extraterrestrial intervention in human history. Most incredible of all are von Däniken's claims that we ourselves are descendants of these galactic pioneers and that the evidence is out there to lead us to them.”


IN VASANTH DEV'S LIBRARY                   

Vasanth Dev invited my attention to a very interesting book titled "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" or what in Tibetan language is called “Bardo Thodol”. It is a funerary text which draws a parallel with the Garuda Purana of Ancient India and with the ancient Egyptian Book Of the Dead. The Egyptian Book of the Dead is no longer used as a funerary text. The Garuda Purana, on the other hand, is a living text still being put to use as a funerary text by millions of Hindu households in India even today.

"The Tibetan Book of the Dead"(The Bardo Thodol) was first published in 1927. Dr.Evans-Wentz of Jesus College in Oxford University prepared a Special Preface for this book. The Bardo Thodol was originally conceived to serve as guide not only for the dying and the dead but also the living as well. This is unique amongst the sacred books of the world.

The Tibetan text describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death, during the interval between death and the next rebirth. This interval is known in Tibetan as the bardo. The text also includes chapters on the signs of death, and rituals to undertake when death is closing in, or has taken place. It is the most internationally famous and widespread work of Tibetan Nyingma literature.

This text compiled and edited by Dr W Y Evans-Wentz is commonly known by its Western title: The Tibetan Book of the Dead. However there is no single Tibetan title corresponding to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The overall name given to the whole terma cycle is Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones, and it is popularly known as Karma Lingpa's Peaceful and Wrathful Ones. It has been handed down through the centuries in several versions containing varying numbers of sections and subsections, arranged in different orders, ranging from around ten to thirty-eight titles. These individual texts cover a wide range of subjects, including meditation instructions, visualizations of deities, liturgies and prayers, lists of mantras, descriptions of the signs of death, and indications of future rebirth, as well as those that are actually concerned with the after-death state.

According to Tibetan tradition, the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State was composed in the 8th century by Padmasambhava. written down by his primary student, Yeshe Tsogyal, buried in the Gampo hills in central Tibet and subsequently discovered by a Tibetan terton, KARMA LINGPA in the 12th century. There were variants of the book among different sects.

Sir. John Woodroffe (1865–1936), wrote a foreword to The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Sir. John Woodroffe has clearly stated that this Holy Tibetan text bears a strong relation to Pretakhanda of the Hindu Garuda Purana. The Garuda Purana deals with the rites used over the dying, the death-moment, the funeral ceremonies, the building up, by means of the Pretashraaddha rite, of a new body for the Preta or deceased in lieu of that destroyed by fire, the Judgment, and thereafter the various states through which the deceased passes until he is reborn again on earth.

According to him both the original text and Dr Evans-Wentz’s introduction form a very valuable contribution to the science of death from the standpoint of the Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism of the so-called ‘Tantric’ type. Dr. Evans-Wentz was a remarkable scholar and savant. He was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and as a teenager read Madame Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine and became interested in the teachings of Theosophy. He received both his B.A. and M.A. from Stanford University, where he studied with William James and William Butler Yeats. He then studied Celtic mythology and folklore at Jesus College, Oxford (1907); there he adopted the form Evans-Wentz for his name. He travelled extensively, spending time in Mexico, Europe, and the Far East. He spent the years of the First World War in Egypt. He later travelled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and India, reaching Darjeeling in 1919; there he enountered Tibetan religious texts firsthand.

Evans-Wentz is best known for four texts translated from the Tibetan, especially The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Evans-Wentz credited himself only as the compiler and editor of these volumes. The actual translation of the texts was performed by Tibetan Buddhists, primarily Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (1868–1922), a teacher of English at the Maharaja's Boys' School in Gangtok, Sikkim who had also done translations for Alexandra David-Neel and Sir John Woodroffe.

Evans-Wentz was a practitioner of the religions he studied. He became Dawa-Samdup's "disciple" and wore Tibetan robes and ate a simple vegetarian diet. He met Ramana Maharshi in 1935, and meant to settle permanently in India, but returned to the U.S. when World War II compelled him to do so. He passed his final twenty-three years in San Diego, and provided financial support to the Maha Bodhi Society, Self-Realization Fellowship, and the Theosophical Society. His Tibetan Book of the Dead was read at his funeral after his death in 1965.

In an introduction to Evans-Wentz' version, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) observed as follows: “The Bardo Thödol” [Tibetan Book of the Dead] began by being a 'closed' book, and so it has remained, no matter what kind of commentaries may be written upon it. For it is a book that will only open itself to spiritual understanding, and this is a capacity which no man is born with, but which he can only acquire through special training and special experience. It is good that such to all intents and purposes 'useless' books exist. They are meant for those 'queer folk' who no longer set much store by the uses, aims, and meaning of present-day 'civilization'. “

Vasanth Dev is eclectic and wholly broadminded and catholic in his approach to books, pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. He is as much interested in Hindu Vedanta as in Western Philosophy. He invited my attention to a book edited by Christopher Isherwood titled ‘Vedanta for Modern Man’ which was published in 1945.


Front Cover of Christopher Isherwood’s        CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD
Book in VASANTH DEV'S LIBRARY                                  (1904-1986)

For more than 5000 years, Vedanta has played a profoundly influential role in shaping Eastern Religious philosophy and thought. During the last 117 years --- inspired by the Hindu Missionary work of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and those who followed him --- Vedanta has taken root in the West. One of the fundamental beliefs of Vedanta is that all faiths are of value. That is why Vedanta has not sought to discredit the great achievements of Western religion and philosophy, but rather to incorporate them in a Universal Design of Enlightenment.

What is the meaning of Vedanta? How does it apply to what we in the West have learnt since childhood? By what means can we experience the broadening of understanding and Ultimate Enlightenment that Vedanta offers?

These are among the questions discussed in 61 essays that examine Vedanta from virtually every angle of vision. Great Swamijis and spiritual seekers, great writers and philosophers like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Prabhavananda, Swami Turiyananda, Swami Satprakashananda, Swami Nikhilananda, Dr RadhaKrishnan, Alan W. Watts, Aldous Huxley, Frederick Manchester, John Yale, Jerald Heard, T.M.P Mahadevan and many others have contributed articles to this volume edited by Christopher Isherwood. This book is one of the most valuable documents in the most important field of meeting of EAST and WEST by way of the minds of intellectuals and mystics from both ends of the worlds. This meeting, being honestly and sensibly conducted by Christopher Isherwood, is indeed a splendid gathering profitable for anyone who chooses to attend or participate in it.

Vedanta has been beautifully summarized by Christopher Isherwood in his introduction. Vedanta (so-called because it was first expounded in the Vedas, the earliest Indian scriptures) is a non-dualistic philosophy. It teaches that Brahman (the Ultimate Reality behind the phenomenal universe) is “one without a second”. Brahman is beyond attributes. Brahman is not conscious; Brahman is consciousness. Brahman does not exist; Brahman is existence. Brahman is the Atman (the Eternal Nature) of every human being, creature and object. Vedanta teaches us that life has no other purpose than this --- that we shall learn to know ourselves for what we really are; that we shall reject the superficial ego personality which claims that “I am V. Sundaram; I am other than Praveen Pillai” and know, instead, that “I am the Atman; Praveen Pillai is the Atman; the Atman is the Brahman; there is nothing anywhere but Brahman; all else is appearance, transience, and unreality”.

Christopher Isherwood has asserted with confidence that the Hindu Vedanta is most likely to influence the West through the medium of scientific thought. In this terrible epoch when our power to do harm seems at length adequate to the evil of our intentions, we are accustomed to blame science for putting the destructive weapons into our hands. Yet science, like the Hindu Goddess Kali is capable of both good and evil. Impartially, science gives us what ever we ask for. At our bidding, the men of science have discovered the secret of atomic energy. Can they also discover before it is too late, a moral sanction which will curb the power of the atom and direct it to peaceful and productive uses? Can science find us a new philosophical synthesis, a restatement of the eternal truths of Hinduism in Ancient India in contemporary terms which our modern agnosticism is able to accept? We get satisfactory answers to these questions in Christopher Isherwood's Book.

I have so far touched upon different kinds and types of non-fiction books covering vast areas of original thought and knowledge. Justice requires that I also refer to one or two outstanding works of fiction, which are the personal favourites of Vasanth Dev. He made my task easier by clearly declaring: “Two works of fiction are dear to my heart. The first one is Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) which was published first in 1900. The second one is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1919-2010) which was published first in 1951."

First edition cover (1951)      As a young man                  In old age
                                                                               J.D.Salinger (1919-2010)

The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. Originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, sexuality, alienation, and rebellion. It has been translated into almost all of the world's major languages. Around 250,000 copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than sixty-five million. The novel's protagonist and antihero, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion.

The novel was included in a 2005 Time Magazine list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and it was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the United States for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst. It also deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection, and alienation.

The second work of fiction which has captured the mind and heart of
Vasanth Dev is ‘Sister Carrie’ by Theodore Dreiser.


Front cover of Book                                     Theodore Dreiser (1871 –1945)
In Vasanth Dev's Library                 As a young man                         In old age

Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser was an American novelist and journalist. He pioneered the naturalist school and is known for portraying characters whose value lies not in their moral code, but in their persistence against all obstacles, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of human choice and societal agency. One of the most censored and suppressed of American novelists, Theodore Dreiser was decried and defended with almost hysterical zeal. At the outset of his career, two eminent publishing firms refused to bring out his books after they had contracted to publish them; other publishers were prevailed upon to reject his manuscripts without reading them. Dreiser was treated as though he were a disgraceful exhibitionist, an insidiously evil influence, whose banned books were sought after and surreptitiously read as pieces of subversive pornography. Starting as a doubting and defenceless boy and until the end of his life, Dreiser remained confused by the brittle cruelty of life.

Louis Untermeyer is absolutely right when he says “His very confusions fumbled their way into a series of books which, ungainly and frequently malformed, transfixed an epoch and made a literature of insecurity…..he created timeless characters and projected a shoddy society with unforgettable power. He added something rough-hewn and ungainly but massive to literature. It was said that he had no talent but a great deal of genius. The lack of talent made him vulnerable ……it was his desperate earnestness and lifelong war with timidity and prudery that won him the prerogative to write honestly and without fear or favour."

Sister Carrie (1900) was the first novel of Theodore Dreiser which was published in 1900. It is about a young country girl who moves to the big city where she starts realizing her own American Dream by first becoming a mistress to men that she perceives as superior and later as a famous actress. It tells the story of a woman who flees from the poverty of her country life and goes to the city of Chicago. There she falls into a wayward life of promiscuity imagining that it was the only way to the sudden acquisition of quick riches. The publishers kept the cover page of this book intentionally bland in order not to promote what was seen as a controversial work. It sold poorly, but it later acquired a considerable reputation. It was made into a 1952 film by William Wyler, which starred Laurence Olivier and Jennifer Jones.

Sister Carrie became most popular and remained so for nearly a century. Its popularity was due to its subject matter. Seduction and adultery, spiced with sadness, robbery, and general amorality are standard ingredients of the best-seller. But Dreiser had built Sister Carrie around the story of his complacently ruined sister, and unprettified realism gave the tale a simplicity and candour utterly unlike the smirking sexuality of its genre. It was the candour of Sister Carrie which, with its incongruous dignity, outraged the sensibilities of the genteel.

Between 1900 and 1980, all editions of the novel ‘Sister Carrie’ were of a second altered version. Not until 1981 did Dreiser's unaltered version appear when the University of Pennsylvania Press issued a scholarly edition based upon the original manuscript held by The New York Public Library. It was a reconstruction by a team of leading scholars to represent the novel before it was edited by hands other than Dreiser's.

His second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, was published in 1911. Many of Dreiser's subsequent novels dealt with social inequality. His first commercial success was achieved in 1925 when he published his novel An American Tragedy (1925), which was made into a film in 1931 and again in 1951.

Though primarily known as a novelist, Dreiser published his first collection of short stories, Free and Other Stories in 1918. This collection contained 11 stories. A particularly interesting story, "My Brother Paul", was a brief biography of his older brother, Paul Dreiser, who was a famous songwriter in the 1890s. This story was the basis for the 1942 romantic movie, "My Gal Sal". On account of his depiction of then unaccepted aspects of life, such as sexual promiscuity, Dreiser was often forced to battle against censorship.

The GRAND THEME in Dreiser's writings was the tremendous tensions that can be caused to any spirited individual, committed to a lofty idealism, by the continuously warring claims of uncontrolled ambition, insatiable desire, and invisibly tyrannical social mores.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), the great American critic, was one of Dreiser's strongest champions even during his lifetime. Mencken’s words of tribute to Dreiser are worth quoting. He declared that “Theodore Dreiser is a great artist, and no other American of his generation has left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters. American writing, before and after his time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling, and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked, and hoped.”

In his Nobel Prize Lecture of 1930, Sinclair Lewis paid this tribute to Theodore DreiserHis great first novel, Sister Carrie, which he dared to publish thirty long years ago and which I read twenty-five years ago, came to housebound and airless America like a great free Western wind, and to our stuffy domesticity gave us the first fresh air since Mark Twain and Walt Whitman”.


The last but one book that I am surveying in this second part is another outstanding work of non-fiction --- American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter. He came into national and international prominence as a public intellectual of the 1950’s, making his mark as a historian and political theorist. He was DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University. In the course of his career, Hofstadter became the “iconic historian of postwar liberal consensus” whom twenty-first century scholars continue consulting, because his intellectually engaging books and essays remain pertinent to the understanding of contemporary history.

Hofstadter’s most important works are ‘Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860–1915’ (1944); ‘The American Political Tradition’ (1948); ‘The Age of Reform’ (1955); ‘Anti-intellectualism in American Life’ (1963), and ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’ (1964). He was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize: in 1956 for ‘The Age of Reform’ and in 1964 for ‘Anti-intellectualism in American Life’.

Hofstadter’s ‘The American Political Tradition’ (1948) is a study of men and ideas in American politics, from the Founding Fathers in the second half of the 18th Century to the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The author provides a very brilliant and well researched explanation of the American nostalgia for their national past. He has provided an original interpretation of the American past through 12 brilliant and incisive biographical portraits of The Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), John C. Calhoun (1785-1850), Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Wendell Phillips (1811-1884), Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). These figures have been chosen as excellent representatives of main currents in American political sentiment.

Here Hofstadter makes it clear: “I have no desire to add to a literature of hero-worship and national self-congratulation which is already large. It seems to me to be less important to estimate how great our public men have been than to analyze their historical roles. A democratic society, in any case, can more safely be overcritical than over indulgent in its attitude towards public leadership.”

Richard Hofstadter says in his introduction that Americans have recently found it more comfortable to see what they have been than to think of where they are going and that their state of mind has become increasingly passive and spectatorial. Historical novels, fictonalized biographies, collections of pictures and cartoons, books on American regions and rivers, have poured forth to satisfy a ravenous appetite for Americans. According to Hofstadter, the sad part of this quest for the American past is that it is carried on in a spirit of sentimental appreciation rather than of critical analysis. Hofstadter provides such a critical analysis of the American political tradition in the light of the evaluations and judgments of selected American political leaders which are often fresh and incisive.

Here are a few flashes from the intellectual armoury of Richard Hofstadter presented in ‘The American Political Tradition’ (1948)

“...shared a belief in the rights of property, the philosophy of economic individualism, the value of competition... They have accepted the economic virtues of a capitalist culture as necessary qualities of man.”

“A common ideology of self-help, free enterprise, competition, and beneficent cupidity has guided the Republic since its inception.”

        COVER OF BOOK                                        ALDOUS HUXLEY (1894-1963)

The next book that I am going to refer to in this survey is ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). This book was published for the first time in 1945 and has run into several editions. I read this book for the first time in 1958 and ever since I have delved deep into this book several times. My friend Vasanth Dev presented me a copy of the 1994 edition of this book. He told me: “This is my bedside reference book.”

I replied to him thus: “So has it been with me ever since 1958. ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ is a mine of curious, extraordinary and erudite learning. Drawing on a vast range of sources --- the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, the Buddhist philosophers, the Taoists, the Sufis, the early Quakers and the great Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages --- Aldous Huxley attempts to offer a synthesis of the Revelations of Mystics and the beliefs of the wise and holy of all ages, races and creeds for the enlightenment of the modern world. Subjects like faith, asceticism, grace, hope and immortality are amply and searchingly discussed. Nobody reading this book can fail to recognize that he is in the presence of a mastermind both profound and acute.”

The term philosophia perennis was first used in the 16th century by Agostino Steuco in his book entitled De perenni philosophia libri X (1540), in which scholastic philosophy is seen as the Christian pinnacle of wisdom to which all other philosophical currents in one way or another point. The idea was later taken up by the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who used it to designate the common, eternal philosophy that underlies all religions, and in particular the mystical streams within them. The term was popularized in more recent times by Aldous Huxley in his 1945 book: The Perennial Philosophy.

‘The Perennial Philosophy’ is a profoundly influential anthology of excerpts and commentaries drawn from all the major religious traditions of the world, illustrating what Huxley called ‘the highest common factor of all the higher religions’. And yet he went on to say with typical humour and humility: “The greatest merit of the book is that about 40% of it is not by me, but by a lot of saints, many of whom were men of genius.”

In his introduction, Aldous Huxley writes as follows: “ ‘Philosophia perennis’ --- the phrase was coined by Gottfried Leibniz; but the thing --- the metaphysic that recognizes a Divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to or even identical with, Divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s Final End in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being --- the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed form has a place in every one of the Higher Religions. A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subsequent theologies was first committed to writing more than 25 Centuries ago and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again, from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages of Asia and Europe.”

In ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ Aldous Huxley has brought together a number of selections from these writings, chosen mainly for their significance --- because they effectively illustrated some particular point in the general system of ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ --- but also for their intrinsic beauty and memorable-ness.

Vasanth Dev’s range of interests seems to me to be truly amazing. He is an avid collector of rare books and more importantly First Editions and Commemorative Editions of the Classics. On 30th July 1935 a batch of reprints appeared on the British Book Market. The titles were familiar enough. They were Ariel by Andre Maurois, A farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Poets Pub by Eric Linklater, Madame Claire by Susan Ertz, Twenty-Five by Beverley Nichols, William by E.H.Young, Gone to Earth by Mary Webb and Carnival by Compton Mackenzie. The format was unfamiliar. The books were paper-bound in variously coloured covers: Orange and White for the Novels, Green and White for the Detective stories, Blue and White for the Biographies. The imprint was completely unknown: The title page said PENGUIN BOOKS, LONDON. The price was six pence a volume. Many predicted that this book venture by PENGUIN BOOKS would be a total failure. All of them were proved wrong by the spectacular growth of Penguin Books between 1935 and 1955.

I am presenting below two rare editions of PENGUIN BOOKS in the personal collection of Vasanth Dev. The first book is the PENGUIN 100 brought out by Penguin Books in 1937. The title of this book is The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. The second book is PENGUIN 1000 brought out by Penguin Books in 1954. The title of this book is One of Our Submarines by Edward Young. Can anyone doubt that for PENGUIN, as a world famous publishing firm, the publication of their 100th title in 1937 and 1000th title in 1954 were really landmark events, not only for them
but also for the world of publishing as a whole


APSLEY CHERRY-                                   PENGUIN 100 (1937)  PENGUIN 1000 (1954)                               EDWARD YOUNG

Vasanth Dev gave me a copy of a pamphlet issued by THE FEDERATION OF THE WORLD BOOKS, the Chief Educators, Joy-Makers, Peace-Makers, and Federators of the World.

In this pamphlet there are 26 Quatrains on different aspects and dimensions of great books. Poetry is nothing but music in words, and music is nothing but poetry in sound. The office of poetry is not to make us think accurately or scientifically or mathematically but feel truly. Poetry is the music of thought, conveyed to us in the music of language. Vasanth Dev told me: “You will find no poetry in the following quatrains about books unless you also bring some poetry with you.”

The English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) rightly said: “Truth shines the brighter clad in verse”. This is wholly applicable to the following QUATRAINS about books.

Books should be found in every house
To form and feed the mind
They are the best of luxuries
‘Tis possible to find.

For all the books in all the world
Are man’s most precious treasure
They make him wise, and bring to him
His best, his choicest pleasure.

Books make his time pass happily
Relieve his weary hours
Amuse, compose, instruct his mind
Enlarge his mental powers.

Books teach schoolmasters, clergymen
Of every rank and grade
And doctors, lawyers, judges too
Books are their tools of trade.

Books show man countries, cities, towns,
Manners and customs too
Books show what all men eat and drink
And every thing they do.

Books give, beside descriptions of
This grand world of our own
Vast knowledge of the starry worlds
And point to worlds unknown.

Books give the choicest, noblest songs
Of every age and tongue
Books give the grandest, sweetest tunes
That mankind ever sung.

Books give the best and greatest thoughts
Of all the good and wise
Books treasure knowledge up
And thus it never dies.

Books show man all that men have done
Have thought, have sung, have said
Books show the deeds and wisdom of
The living and the dead.

Books show that men of every race
Of colour, clime and creed
Have kindred feelings, passions, thoughts,
And are brothers indeed.

Books show that mankind’s leading faiths
In morals are the same
That in their main essentials
They differ but in name

Books show that good men every where
Believe that war should cease
And books will make that feeling grow
And more and more increase.

Books show the joys, grief’s, hopes, and fears
Of every race and clan
Books show by unity of thought
The Brotherhood of Man.

Books thus will cause the Flag of Peace
Through Earth to be unfurled
Produce “The Parliament of Man”
And federate the world.

Thus books are the greatest blessing out
The greatest thing we sell
Books bring more joy, books do more good
Than mortal tongue can tell.

I have carried on long conversations with Vasanth Dev on the great classics of the world --- from both the West and the East. I remember his once making this brilliant and insightful comment: “In my view the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves”.

Once he stunned me at a coffee house by this incendiary observation derived from (if I am permitted to frame my own terminology!) classical physics of literature: “A book is the only place where you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea with out fear that it will go off in your face!!”

Finally, when I put this question to Vasanth Dev: “Which is your most favourite quotation on books and about books?”, he cited the following quotation from the intellectual armoury of Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989). “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change, windows on the world, “lighthouses” (as a poet said) “erected in the sea of time”. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity  

                       VASANTH DEV                              NIMMU VASANTH DEV      

In conclusion I would say that Vasanth Dev has these admirable qualities in abundance: courage, candour, honesty, intelligence, love of intelligence in others, interest in ideas, a lack of pretension, a very sharp sense of the ridiculous, warmth of heart, generosity, --- intellectual as well as emotional --- and finally, dislike for the pompous, the bogus and the self-important. He is, above all, an extraordinarily good man and this shines through everything he does or says. He is singularly fortunate in being married to Mrs. Nimmu Vasanth who too is an equally extraordinary woman with a wonderful track record of selfless service as a social activist and whose high ideals have always marched alongside his own. I give my whole hearted thanks to the Almighty for giving me this unique opportunity of knowing him, loving him and admiring him and his beloved dedicated wife.


Thursday, June 17, 2010



Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities... much more so than music or language. ---Conrad Hall

The true university of these days is a collection of books. All that mankind has done, though, gained or beenL it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books-----Thomas Carlyle


My friend Vasanth Dev (formerly Vasanth Kumar Devasundaram) is a great lover, reader and collector of books. Born on 17th February 1952, he took his B.Sc Degree from Delhi University. Later he took his Diploma in Cinematography from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

When I asked Vasanth Dev as to how he came to take a Diploma in Cinematography, with great frankness he told me: “In fact, to begin with, I had no intention of doing Cinematography in the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. My first choice was to do ‘Editing’ but very unfortunately I failed to qualify for it at the entry point. ‘Editing’ was a Two (2) Year Programme. Cinematography was only my second choice. The Selectors wanted me to show to them either some of the photographs I had taken or some of the paintings which I had done. When I showed to them some of my paintings, they were quite impressed and admitted me into the Three (3) Year Cinematography Programme. I made some sort of history because I was the first candidate to be given this opportunity of doing Cinematography Programme and also the first to succeed in the matter of exercising the second option of doing an approved programme after having failed to qualify for the first option.” Having said this with great humility, Vasanth Dev did not fail to add with a winning smile: “Of course, right from my childhood days I was passionately interested in painting and perhaps this interest in painting enabled me to get an opportunity of doing the 3 Year Cinematography programme at Pune.”




When I look at the paintings of Vasanth Dev, I can see how very right was the great English Painter Sir.Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) when he wrote in 1770: “A room hung with pictures, is a room hung with thoughts”. Simonides of Ceos (c. 556 BC-468 BC), a Greek lyric poet, said it for all time when he wrote in 500 BC: “Painting is nothing but silent poetry, and poetry is nothing but a speaking picture”. I am quoting Simonides here not without reason---my friend Vasanth Dev  is a lover of both Painting and Poetry.

I put this question to Vasanth Dev : How would you describe the work of a Cinematographer to a lay man like me? He gave me this answer:The work of the Cinematographer consists of transforming ideas in the mind and words on paper into images on film. This process has three requistes: technical knowledge, artistic sensibility and ability to collaborate with other people in the creative process, both in accepting suggestions from others without rancour and freely giving one’s ideas for the collective and cooperative end result.”

Vasanth Dev is an outstanding Cinematographer, having served as Director of Photography for more than 40 Feature Films, 20 Ad Films, and a few social and corporate films. He won the Kerala State Award for Best Cinematography for the Film ORMAIKAI in 1983. He had the distinction of doing Cinematography for the Feature Film MARUPAKKAM ---a literary work of Indira Parthasarathy---and this Film won the National Award for Best Feature Film in 1992. Veteran Actor Chevalier Shivaji Ganesan decorated Vasanth Dev with a citation and Gold Medal for meritorious Service in the field of Cinematography in South India on the occasion of Silver Jubilee Celebrations of South Indian Cinematographer’s Association on 28th December 1997.

Receiving Gold Medal for meritorious Service in the field of Cinematography in South India from Chevalier Shivaji Ganesan

My next question to Vasanth Dev was this: “who are the great cinematographers who have inspired you and influenced you in your professional life as a Cinematographer?” This was his reply: “Four Cinematographers have greatly inspired me. First is an Italian called Giuseppe Rotunno (1923-) whose outstanding work as Cinematographer for an Italian Film ‘White Nights’ (Le notti bianche) produced in 1957 made a great impression upon me. ‘White Nights’ was based upon a short story by the great Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881). The whole film was done by Giuseppe Rotunno in an Italian village. When I saw the film for the first time I could never imagine that the whole village was picturised by this great cinematographer within the precincts of a film studio. It has been so beautifully shot that you don’t feel that it is a story taking place in a set.”

“Second is a Chinese American Cinematographer James Wong Howe (1899-1976) whose work as Cinematographer in a Film called ‘Picnic’ which came out in 1955 is rated as an instance of outstanding work. He had a great penchant for dramatic lighting and deep shadows.


JAMES WONG HOWE (1899-1976)

The third cinematographer cited by Vasanth Dev is William H. Daniels, A.S.C. (1901 - 1970). As a film cinematographer, he was best known as Greta Garbo's personal lensman. He worked regularly with director Erich von Stroheim.

William Daniels’s career as a cinematographer extended fifty years from the silent film Foolish Wives (1922) to Move (1970), although he was an uncredited camera operator on two earlier films (1919 and 1920). He also was a producer of some films in the 1960s and was President of American Society of Cinematographers from 1961 to 1963.

William Daniels has declared: "I didn't create a 'Garbo face.' I just did portraits of her I would have done for any star. My lighting of her was determined by the requirements of a scene. I didn't, as some say I did, keep one side of her face light and the other dark. But I did always try to make the camera peer into the eyes, to see what was there."

William Daniels served as cinematographer in nearly 164 films from 1922 to 1970. Many of them were great hits like Anna Christie (1930), Queen Christina (1933), Anna Karenina (1935), Camille (1936), Marie Antoinette(!936), Ninotchka(1939), Plymouth Adventure(1952), Can-Can(1959) and Come September(1961).Vasant Kumar’s favourite is Come September (1961). He told me: “William Daniels excelled all cinematographers when he worked on Come September (1961)”.


The fourth cinematographer referred to by Vasanth Dev  is Subrata Mitra (1930 –2001)  an Indian cinematographer from Bengal. Acclaimed for his work in The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), Mitra is rated to be one of the greatest of Indian cinematographers. At the age of 21, Subarata Mitra, who had never held a camera before, began his career as a cinematographer with Satyajit Ray, the legendary Indian film maker, for Pather Panchali (1955). He continued to work with Satyajit Ray for many of his later films. Subarata Mitra is known for pioneering the technique of bounce lighting, while filming The Apu Trilogy.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers: “Subrata Mitra made his first technical innovation while shooting 'Aparajito'. The fear of monsoon rain had forced the art director, Bansi Chandragupta, to abandon the original plan to build the inner courtyard of a typical Benares house in the open and the set was built inside a studio in Calcutta. Mitra recalls arguing in vain with both Chandragupta and Ray about the impossibilities of simulating shadowless diffused skylight. But this led him to innovate what became subsequently his most important tool - bounce lighting. Mitra placed a framed painter white cloth over the set resembling a patch of sky and arranged studio lights below to bounce off the fake sky.”

Subrata Mitra’s Director Satyajit Ray has also confirmed this with pride: “You know, about seven or eight years after Pather Panchali was made, I read an article in American Cinematographer written by Sven Nykvist — at the time of Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly, I think — claiming the invention of bounced light. But we had been using it since 1954.”

Vasanth Dev rates Subrata Mitra’s Charulata (1964) as his best work in the field of cinematography. This film was directed by Satyajit Ray.
SUBRATA MITRA (1930 –2001)

Vasnth Dev's elemental passion for cinematography as a unique form of art---at once unique and vital and vibrant and vivid----can be effectively described and portrayed through a bunch of great quotations from the writings of world famous cinematographers. I am presenting below some of those great quotations:

I think the way I film is based in dance. The relationship between me, the camera, and the actor is a dance.’Christopher Doyle

This exhibition is my corruption of a popular Chinese expression not three , not four which usually implies something is wishy washy, that the intent is not clear and the result ambiguous. I suggest the reverse here: that cinema is an experience modified by the three people most directly engaged: the first being the person (animal/object) in front of the camera, presenting, baring, searching, sharing through a medium (cameraperson/ director/lens) with a third participant: the viewer. All three have intent and integrity but the result is communal and personal… not wishy washy… very memorable… totally owned by each of the three… not some ambiguous four(th).’Christopher Doyle

There are several aspects of lighting. There's a broad sweep that's sort of impressionistic and reasonably realistic, but some of our British cameramen, and the French cameramen, too, were sort of 'itty-bitty'. George Perinal was considered one of the best cinematographers at the time, but he used dozens of lights-- a little bit here, a little bit there-- and it didn't look natural. A big director who had been a cameraman came over from America to do a screen test, and when this director came on set, he said: 'Are you ready, Peri? Peri said, 'Yes.' Then the director said to the gaffer, 'Kill that one, kill that one...' and he killed about 10 lights. Watching that was a lesson to me: SIMPLICITY."-Jack Cardiff, BSC

What endears Vasanth Dev's  most to me and my wife is not his achievements in the Field of Cinematography but his burning passion for books. He has an uncanny flair for selecting, locating and buying the best books in the fields of literature, art, poetry, religion, culture and philosophy. He is one of the best read persons I have come across not only in Chennai City but in the whole of India. The vast range of collection of his books in his private library is really amazing and the real beauty is the fact that it is equally and truly matched by the extraordinary range of his reading interests. I have come across readers with tremendous interest in and feel for Books in the field for Humanities and with no feel for Books in the field of Physical and Natural Sciences. Vasanth Dev is a highly evolved reader with equal passion for both Humanities and the Natural Sciences.

Recently Vasanth Dev took me by surprise by giving me the following two lists of 100 Best Non-Fiction Books and 100 Best Novels drawn up by Modern Library. I am presenting below both these lists I was stunned by the fact that he has read nearly 78% of the Best Books from these two lists relating to Fiction and Non-fiction. What is even more impressive is that Vasanth Dev has succeeded in hunting and collecting more than 70% of the best books from these 2 lists.



3. UP FROM SLAVERY by Booker T. Washington

4. A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN by Virginia Woolf

5. SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson

6. SELECTED ESSAYS, 1917-1932 by T. S. Eliot

7. THE DOUBLE HELIX by James D. Watson

8. SPEAK, MEMORY by Vladimir Nabokov



11. THE LIVES OF A CELL by Lewis Thomas

12. THE FRONTIER IN AMERICAN HISTORY by Frederick Jackson Turner

13. BLACK BOY by Richard Wright

14. ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL by E. M. Forster

15. THE CIVIL WAR by Shelby Foote

16. THE GUNS OF AUGUST by Barbara Tuchman


18. THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN by Reinhold Niebuhr

19. NOTES OF A NATIVE SON by James Baldwin


21. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk and E. B. White

22. AN AMERICAN DILEMMA by Gunnar Myrdal

23. PRINCIPIA MATHEMATICA by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell

24. THE MISMEASURE OF MAN by Stephen Jay Gould

25. THE MIRROR AND THE LAMP by Meyer Howard Abrams

26. THE ART OF THE SOLUBLE by Peter B. Medawar

27. THE ANTS by Bert Hoelldobler and Edward O. Wilson

28. A THEORY OF JUSTICE by John Rawls

29. ART AND ILLUSION by Ernest H. Gombrich





34. ON GROWTH AND FORM by D'Arcy Thompson

35. IDEAS AND OPINIONS by Albert Einstein

36. THE AGE OF JACKSON by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.


38. BLACK LAMB and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West


41. GOODBYE TO ALL THAT by Robert Graves

42. HOMAGE TO CATALONIA by George Orwell


44. CHILDREN OF CRISIS by Robert Coles

45. A STUDY OF HISTORY by Arnold J. Toynbee

46. THE AFFLUENT SOCIETY by John Kenneth Galbraith


48. THE GREAT BRIDGE by David McCullough

49. PATRIOTIC GORE by Edmund Wilson

50. SAMUEL JOHNSON by Walter Jackson Bate

51. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X

52. THE RIGHT STUFF by Tom Wolfe

53. EMINENT VICTORIANS by Lytton Strachey

54. WORKING by Studs Terkel

55. DARKNESS VISIBLE by William Styron

56. THE LIBERAL IMAGINATION by Lionel Trilling

57. THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Winston Churchill

58. OUT OF AFRICA by Isak Dinesen

59. JEFFERSON AND HIS TIME by Dumas Malone

60. IN THE AMERICAN GRAIN by William Carlos Williams

61. CADILLAC DESERT by Marc Reisner

62. THE HOUSE OF MORGAN by Ron Chernow

63. THE SWEET SCIENCE by A. J. Liebling


65. THE ART OF MEMORY by Frances A. Yates


67. A PREFACE TO MORALS by Walter Lippmann

68. THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE by Jonathan D. Spence


71. THE RISE OF THE WEST by William H. McNeill

72. THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS by Elaine Pagels

73. JAMES JOYCE by Richard Ellmann

74. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE by Cecil Woodham-Smith


76. THE CITY IN HISTORY by Lewis Mumford

77. BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM by James M. McPherson

78. WHY WE CAN'T WAIT by Martin Luther King by Jr.

80. STUDIES IN ICONOLOGY by Erwin Panofsky

81. THE FACE OF BATTLE by John Keegan


83. VERMEER by Lawrence Gowing

84. A BRIGHT SHINING LIE by Neil Sheehan

85. WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham

86. THIS BOY'S LIFE by Tobias Wolff


88. SIX EASY PIECES by Richard P. Feynman

89. PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard

90. THE GOLDEN BOUGH by James George Frazer

91. SHADOW AND ACT by Ralph Ellison

92. THE POWER BROKER by Robert A. Caro


94. THE CONTOURS OF AMERICAN HISTORY by William Appleman Williams


96. IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote


98. THE TAMING OF CHANCE by Ian Hacking


100. MELBOURNE by Lord David Cecil

1. ULYSSES by James Joyce

2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald


4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov

5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner

7. CATCH-22

8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler

9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence

10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry

12. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler

13. 1984 by George Orwell

14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves

15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf

16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser

17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers

18. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut

19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison

20. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright



23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos

24. WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson

25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster

26. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James

27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James

28. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald


30. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford

31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell

32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James

33. SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser

34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh

35. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner

36. ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren

37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder

38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster

39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin

40. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene

41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey

43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell

44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley

45. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway

46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad

47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad

48. THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence

49. WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence

50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller

51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer

52. PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth

53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov

54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner

55. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac

56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett

57. PARADE'S END by Ford Madox Ford

58. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton

59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm

60. THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy


62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones


64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger

65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess

66. OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham

67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad

68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis

69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton

70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell

71. A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes

72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul

73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West

74. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

75. SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh


77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
78. KIM by Rudyard Kipling

79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster


82. ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner

83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul

84. THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen

85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad

86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow

87. THE OLD WIVES' TALE by Arnold Bennett

88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London

89. LOVING by Henry Green

90. MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie

91. TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell

92. IRONWEED by William Kennedy

93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles

94. WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys
95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch

96. SOPHIE'S CHOICE by William Styron

97. THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles


99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy

100. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Booth Tarkington

It is a sheer delight to see Vasanth Dev lounging in his drawing room with these great books around him. Vasanth Dev talking with grace and great passion about his collection of books in his Library, brought to my mind the testament of faith of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) ‘I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lonely the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more. You have left all that is vulgar and all that is sordid behind you. There stand your noble, silent comrades, waiting in their ranks. Pass your eye down their files. Choose your man. And then you have but to hold up your hand to him and away you go together into dreamland’. Vasanth Dev really typifies such a noble attitude towards books.

When I asked Vasanth Dev as to what made him choose the lists of Great Books drawn up by The Modern Library, he replied as follows: “You may be aware of the fact that The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for 75 years during the 20th century starting from 1925. For decades, young Americans cut their intellectual teeth on Modern Library books. Their series of published books shaped their tastes, educated them, provided them with a window on the world. Many of the celebrated writers of America have attested that they ‘grew up with the Modern Library’. I too have grown up with the Modern Library.”

I am presenting below a short list of Vasanth Dev's personal favourites from The Century List drawn up by the Modern Library. What is unique about him is that not only he owns many of these books but is also familiar with most of them, having read them with deep passion and keen interest.


FRONT COVER OF BOOK                                                  RICHARD WRIGHT ((1908-1960)

Vasanth Dev told me that one of the earliest books he read in the 1980’s was ‘BLACK BOY’ (American Hunger) by Richard Wright. A hardcover edition of this book was originally published in 1945 by Harper & Brothers. A paperback edition was published in 1966 by Perennial Library and reissued in 1989. The text as restored by The Library of America was published in 1991. Richard Wright spent his early childhood as a black boy in the racist South. Migration to the North was accepted as an essential prelude to black people’s enjoying the full blessings of Liberty and Citizenship. The story of his early life up to the time of his leaving Memphis in the South for Chicago in the North clearly enables us to understand that there was an institutionalized form of cruel racism in the South where Blacks who displayed the courage to assert their basic Human Rights invited retribution or death.

Faced with inhuman persecution in the South, Richard Wright, he wanted to shift to the North and when he finally reached Chicago, he discovered with great pain that there were odious restrictions placed on genuine human freedom as much in the North as in the South. Richard Wright writes with great feeling: “My hazy notion that life could be lived with dignity, that the personalities of others should not be violated, that men should be able to confront other men without fear or shame in the North was simply transformed by the urban environment into clear ideas about the pervasive constrictions placed on authentic Human Freedom in the North as well as in the South.” Richard Wright came to the firm conclusion that the Promised Land in America for the Blacks was nowhere. Vasanth Dev told me that what moved him most deeply in this book of autobiography were the concluding words of Richard Wright: “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”

FRONT COVER OF THE BOOK                             HENRY ADAMS (1838-1918)

Vasanth Dev surprised me by saying that he has a copy of the first book listed in The Century List --The Education of Henry Adams—drawn up by The Modern Library

The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiographical work relating to the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838-1918), in his early 60s to come to terms with the dawning of the 20th century which was very different from the world of his early youth. Henry Adams legitimately belonged to the American political aristocracy that emerged from the American Revolution of 1776. He was the grandson of the American President John Quincy Adams (1767 –1848). John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. was also the great-grandson of President and Founding Father of the American Republic John Adams (1735-1826) who was the Second President of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Henry Adams’s father, Charles Francis Adams, had served as ambassador to the United Kingdom during the American Civil War, and had been elected to the United States House of Representatives

Literary critics consider The Education of Henry Adams as one of the most distinguished examples of this genre of writing. This book will live forever in American literature as the truthful record of Henry Adams’s earnest search for self-education through his experiences, friendships, and reading. The Education is much more a record of Adams's introspection than of his deeds. It is an extended meditation on the social, technological, political, and intellectual changes that occurred over Henry Adams's lifetime. There are two striking aspects which set The Education apart from the common run of autobiographies. First, it is narrated in the third person and second, it is consciously sarcastic and humorously self-critical. As one eminent literary critic rightly observed: “Here, as always, Adams tells his story in a third-person voice that can seem almost extra-planetary in its detachment. Yet there's also an undercurrent of melancholy and amusement--and wonder at the specific details of what was already a lost world.”

Eminent educationists have viewed The Education of Henry Adams as a seminal source book on 19th century educational theory and practice. This book was privately printed in 1906 by Henry Adams for limited circulation. Its formal publication was done only after his death in 1918. One year later in 1919 the Pulitzer Prize was posthumously awarded to him.

The most important Chapter in Henry Adams’s Book is titled "The Dynamo and the Virgin". It contrasts the potent influence of CHRISTIANITY represented by VIRGIN MARY which was the unifying force acting on the European Middle Ages, with the DYNAMO, as representative of the forces of technology and industry which was impacting upon civilization—now referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution-- in the early years of the 20th century. With great feeling and sensitivity Henry Adams lamented about the destruction of the human values that had supported and sustained the achievements of his ancestors and with great prescience he rightly predicted the birth of a future age driven by corruption and greed. Henry Adams concluded that his traditional education failed to help him come to terms with these rapid changes; hence his heart-felt need for self-education.

The Education repeatedly mentions two long-standing friends of Adams, the scientific explorer of the Far West, Clarence King, and the American diplomat, John Milton Hay. The Education is an important work of American literary nonfiction. It provides a penetrating glimpse into the intellectual and political life of the late 19th century. The Education was nominated as the best book of the twentieth century several years later by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Vasanth Dev invited my attention to the following pithy quotations from the pen of Henry Adams

Quotations from John Adams

Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.

  • Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.

Practical politics consists of ignoring facts.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.

Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.

• From cradle to grave this problem of running order through chaos, direction through space, discipline through freedom, unity through multiplicity, has always been, and must always be, the task of education, as it is the moral of religion, philosophy, science, art, politics and economy; but a boy's will is his life, and he dies when it is broken, as the colt dies in harness, taking a new nature in becoming.



One of Vasanth Dev’s favourite books is ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson (1907 –1964) which was first published in 1962. She was an American marine biologist and nature writer whose was a great pioneer whose writings inaugurated and launched the global environmental movement. Carson started her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her financial security and recognition as a gifted writer. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the republished version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. Together, her sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea. When her greatest and history-making book titled ‘Silent Spring’ was published in 1962, the New York Times paid this tribute to her: “Miss Carson’s cry of warning is timely. If our species cannot police itself against overpopulation, nuclear weapons and pollution, it may become extinct.”

Silent Spring was a devastating attack on human carelessness, greed and irresponsibility that were destroying the world irrevocably and irretrievably for one and all. Miss Carson drew a living portrait of the destruction of the environment that was taking place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and how the balance of nature as decreed in the science of life was getting deranged with disastrous consequences for mankind. She gave a graphic account of what man was doing (and in fact had done for more than 20 years starting from 1940) to destroy the nature’s science of life by creating a man’s science of death.

May 28, 2010 marked the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring” which inspired and inaugurated The Modern Environmental Movement. According to Linda Engelsiepen it was Rachel Carson who gave nature a voice. To quote the appropriate words of Linda Engelsiepen: “Carson’s rare ability to combine scientific fact with poetic language reached the hearts and minds of a lay audience. Her readers’ eyes were opened not only to the beauty of nature and the tragedies of its ruin, but the travesty that this destruction was being carried out by forces supposedly acting for our own good. The result of Carson’s tour-de-force was ultimately a new public mindset: that the health of our environment directly affected us, and that we’d better take a stand to protect it or we would all suffer the consequences…. “Silent Spring” has become famous as the “book that got DDT banned,” which was one eventual result of the public outcry that followed its release. But contrary to popular belief, Carson never actually called for outright bans on substances, she merely argued for controlled restraint and scientific accountability. Her passion for her subject planted the seeds of a movement towards environmental awareness. Carson described a picture of ecological balance – when a species is uniformly destroyed, other species can multiply with impunity. She understood the interconnectedness of nature, and her poetic descriptions of seemingly mundane biological processes probably had as much of an effect of luring people to a love of nature and its stunning variety and brilliance as it did in sounding an alarm at its destruction.”

Margaret Mead (1901-1978) the world famous anthropologist praised Silent Spring by saying that it alerted mankind and all of us in these words ”Not against war, but a plethora of manmade things….is threatening to strangle us, suffocate us, bury us, in the debris and by-products of our technologically inventive and irresponsible age.”

Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980) called ‘Silent Spring’ “The most important chronicle of the 20th Century for the human race.”

The next favourite book of Vasanth Dev  is R.H.Tawney’s ‘Religion and the Rise of Capatalism’ which was published in 1926. It is very unusual for any modern day scholar to be familiar with this book which was published 84 ye

   Front Cover of the Book in                                   R.H.Tawney (1880-1962)

   Vasanth Dev's  Library

Richard Henry Tawney was an English economic historian, social critic, Christian socialist, and an important advocate of adult education. The Oxford Companion to British History (1997) paid its tribute to Tawney by declaring that he made a “significant impact” upon all the four of these “interrelated roles”. It is now widely accepted that R.H.Tawney exercised the widest influence of any historian of his time, politically, socially and, above all, educationally.

Born in Calcutta, India, Tawney was educated at Rugby School. He studied modern history at Balliol College, Oxford. After graduating from Oxford in 1903, he and his friend William Beveridge lived at Toynbee Hall, then the home of the recently formed Workers Educational Association. The experience was to have a profound effect upon him. He realized that charity was insufficient and major structural change was required to bring about social justice for the poor. In keeping with his social radicalism, Tawney came to regard the Church of England as a “class institution, making respectful salaams to property and gentility, and with too little faith in its own creed to call a spade a spade in the vulgar manner of the New Testament”.

For three years from January 1908, Tawney taught the first Workers’ Educational Association(WEA) tutorial classes at Longton, Stoke-on-Trent and Rochdale, Lancashire. For a time, until he moved to Manchester after marrying Jeanette (William Beveridge’s sister), Tawney was working as part-time economics lecturer at Glasgow University. To fulfil his teaching commitments to the WEA, he travelled first to Longton for the evening class every Friday, before travelling north to Rochdale for the Saturday afternoon class. Tawney clearly saw these classes as a two-way learning process. Tawney wrote: “The friendly smitings of weavers, potters, miners and engineers, have taught me much about the problem of political and economic sciences which cannot easily be learned from books”.

Tawney’s first important work as a historian was The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (1912). He was elected Fellow of Balliol College in 1918. From 1917 to 1931, he was a lecturer at the London School of Economics (LSE). In 1926 he helped found The Economic History Society with Sir William Ashley, amongst others, and became the joint editor of its journal, The Economic History Review. From 1931 until retirement in 1949, he was a professor of economic history at the LSE and Professor Emeritus after 1949. He was an Honorary Doctor of the universities of Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, London, Chicago, Melbourne, and Paris.

Tawney's historical works reflected his ethical concerns and preoccupations in economic history. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926) was his classic work and made his reputation as an historian. It explored the relationship between Protestantism and economic development in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tawney “bemoaned the division between commerce and social morality brought about by the Protestant Reformation, leading as it did to the subordination of Christian teaching to the pursuit of material wealth”.

R.H.Tawney was a fearless critic of Protestant Christianity with a rare combination of political wisdom, historical insight and moral force. He was a great prophet who made a blistering attack on the acquisitiveness of modern societies.

R.H.Tawney’s words from the last chapter of his classic “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism” are worth quoting: ‘Modern Capitalism’, writes Mr.Keynes,is absolutely irreligious, without internal union, without much public spirit, often, though not always, a mere congeries of possessors and pursuers.’ It is that whole system of appetites and values, with its deification of the life of snatching to hoard, and hoarding to snatch, which now, in the hour of its triumph, while the plaudits of the crowd still ring in the ears of the gladiators and the laurels are still unfaded on their brows, seems sometimes to leave a taste as of ashes on the lips of a civilization which has brought to the conquest of its material environment resources unknown in earlier ages, but which has not yet learned to master itself. It was against that system, while still in its supple and insinuating youth, before success had caused it to throw aside the mask of innocence, and while its true nature was unknown even to itself, that the Saints and Sages of earlier ages launched their warnings and their denunciations.”

Front Cover Of Book All Rivers Run To The Sea        E                             ELIE WIESEL (1928---)


Vasanth Dev spoke to me eloquently about Elie Wiesel’s Memoirs (1928-1969) titled “All Rivers Run to the Sea”. Elie Wiesel is a writer, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He is the author of 57 books, the best known of which is Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

We can clearly see from Elie Wiesel’s famous autobiographical book All Rivers Run to the Sea that he is an outstanding intellectual in search of explanations for the evil that pervaded Hitler’s death camps. The following heart-rending and moving passages from this book bring out in really evocative terms humanity’s inhumanity to the Jews even after the suicide of Hitler on 30th April 1945 and the total defeat of Germany and the end of the II World War. Let us hear the eloquent words of Elie Wiesel. Only when we read these passages we get to understand how very right was Winston Churchill when he said: “There is a world of difference between mere rhetoric and sheer eloquence. Rhetoric is fireworks and eloquence is fire.”

“The truth must be stated and restated. The suffering of the Jewish survivors did not end with the war; society wanted no part of them, either during or after. During the war all doors were closed to them, and afterward the remained shut. The evidence is irrefutable. They were kept in the places were they had suffered. Granted, after some delay they were housed (in barracks), fed (badly), and clothed (pitifully),but they were made to feel that they were beggars and poor relations ,extra mouths to feed. Time does not heal all wounds. Some remain open and raw.”

When strong protests and complaints against the ill treatment of the Jews by the Allied Forces, even after the II World War, reached the ears of President Truman, he directed General Eisenhower to clean up alleged shocking conditions in the treatment of displaced Jews in Germany outside the Russian zone and in Austria. President Truman’s message was drafted by Earl Harrison, former Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and American Representative to the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees. The September 30, 1945 issue of The New York Times devoted a long and devastating article to Earl Harrison’s Report. The New York Times concluded thus:

“As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in Concentration camps in larger numbers under our own Military Guard instead of SS Troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we too are following or at least condoning the Nazi Policy.”

Elie Wiesel has commented as follows on the above finding of The New York Times: “As I read and reread this article, feelings of shame, frustration and sorrow sweep over me. American Jewish Leaders, intellectuals and humanists must have read this Report. They knew- they must have known—that their brothers and sisters were suffering in Germany, yet they did little to relieve their plight. I don’t like to criticize fellow Jews, but their passivity seems incomprehensible.”

There is no doubt that Elie Wiesel owes the Award of the Nobel Prize to him in 1986 to the singular influence his writing has had on Holocaust Thinking and its application to the defense of universal human rights. When Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Norwegian Nobel Committee called him a "messenger to mankind", noting that through his struggle to come to terms with "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps", as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace", Wiesel had delivered a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity to humanity.”
Elie Wiesel’s autobiographical narrative All Rivers Run to the Sea begins with his experience of growing up in Sighet, and then briefly touches on his experiences in the concentration camp at AUSCHWITZ. The book talks about his experiences as a student and journalist in France after the war, his move to New York City, experiences in Israel, and his American citizenship. All Rivers Run to the Sea is a dialogue between Wiesel and his readers. It inspires questions about humanity, religion, and scholarship while providing a moving account of how Elie Wiesel became a writer and human rights figure.

Elie Wiesel is one of that small group of survivors of the Holocaust who understands and accepts that an important part of his life is to be a witness and to use his scholarship and his great gift for story-telling in testifying to the unprecedented tragedy of his people. He has another gift: meeting people and gaining their confidence and trust. There are anecdotes on virtually every page of All Rivers Run to the Sea–and many of them could easily become short stories or novels. This book transports us memorably to a vanished world that existed prior to 1930—a world that was filled with Jewish Learning and Laughter and Love. There are few more poignant pieces of writing in what has come to be known as Holocaust Literature than Wiesel’s description of his father’s death, a mere two pages which encapsulate an eternity of suffering.

This book shows that he has never been able to cast off the tentacles of darkness that shackled him during the Second World War. In his deathless phrase “Memory is a passion no less powerful or pervasive than love”.

On the question of forgiveness, Wiesel writes, "I could conceivably forgive the evil the Germans did to me personally, but not the suffering and death they inflicted on my parents, on all the dead Jewish parents and all their murdered children."

When I asked Vasanth Dev whether he agrees with those who complain that radio and television today are the real enemies of the book, he gave me this beautiful answer: “I am firmly of the view that libraries and books will ever remain permanent islands of infinite choice in a chaotic sea of multiple TV channels. Printed books were amongst the first great stirrers of the exploring spirit. They created and awakened a vast range of wants and needs. That is why through books we can live a thousand lives in one. We can discover America with Columbus, stand with Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, and work in a laboratory with Thomas Alva Edison. When we read Sir Winston Churchill's War Memoirs, we relive the hectic days of the Second World War. Nehru's description of the Dandi march enables us to accompany Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu and hundreds of other freedom fighters on their March to Dandi in 1930 and to exclaim marching along with them 'Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai' and 'Inquilab Zindabad'.”

I fully endorse the views of Vasant Dev. We can enrich our spirit with the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Through books we can know the majesty of great poetry, the wisdom of the philosophers, the findings of the scientists. Through books we can start today from where the great thinkers of yesterday left off, because books have immortalized man's knowledge. Thinkers dead for a thousand years, come alive in their books today as when they walked the earth. Through books we can orient our lives to the world we live in, for books link the past, the present and the future. The great electronic modern conquerors of space like the radio and the television cannot conquer time. Only the books can accomplish that. Books will remain forever our messengers from the longer past to the still longer future.

Unlike in the world of electronic media like TV Channels, in the world of books, the individual reader and the individual buyer remain sovereign. In this context, I cannot resist quoting the most inspiring words of Daniel Joseph Boorstin (1914 –2004), the 12th Librarian of the United States Congress: “Books and libraries are the real sanctuaries of self-help. Books and libraries remain as they have always been, the most open of open universities — institutions of the highest learning, where there are no entrance examinations, no registration fees, no examinations and no diplomas, and where one can enter at any age. There we make available the great teachers of all ages and all nations. We have no problems with their tenure. In this invisible endless faculty of great teachers, they all have tenure, and yet none of them becomes senile or lazy, nor can they inhibit their successors. And we need not worry that any of them will be distracted from their teaching.”

A good library stocked with great and timeless books sets the prophet against the priest, the democrat against the tyrant, the prisoner against society, the has-nothing against the has-all, the individual against the universe. The infinite pathos of several generations lies here, their beatings against the wall, their desperate escapes, their triumphant reconciliations. Books create worlds and destroy worlds. Books are the mirrors of light and the mirrors of darkness in which the universe sees its own face.

As a great British writer rightly observed: “Books are man's rational protest against the irrational, man's pitiful protest against the implacable, man's ideal against the world's real, man's word against the cosmic dumbness, man's life against a planetary death, man's revelation of the God within him, man's repartee to the God without him. Who ever touches a book touches not only a man but 'MAN'.”These beautiful and noble thoughts about the eternal glory and grandeur of great books in the roaring loom of time keep on invading my mind, heart and soul, whenever and wherever I have a long and detailed discussion with Vasanth Dev on books and libraries.

(to be continued)