Art & Entertainment

The Anemoiac World Of Suresh Menon

Unlike other newspaper columnists, this book's author manages to skirt the mundane everyday politics and inhabit a space that is more esoteric: books, philosophy, art and sport.

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Why don’t you write something I might read?
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Why Don’t You Write Something I Might Read?: Reading, Writing & Arrhythmia 
By Suresh Menon
Context 
pp. 288, Rs 699


Newspaper columnists are an elite species. Small in number but grand in clout, they advice and attack governments, provoke and pacify readers; often making readers feel insufficient. Newspaper editors too are scared to edit or cut their copy or even ask them to tone it down. Columnists are a law unto themselves. They stop their columns, like Ram Guha and others, if asked to tone down or delete a nasty paragraph. In that way, most columnists are as powerful as the editors-in-chief they write for. Even Suresh Menon seems to have shown his clout with the word 'arrhythmia’ appearing in the subtitle of the book, something which few editors would have allowed.

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Sadly, this breed is dying out due to the general clampdown on dissent, and some of them have been sent back to retirement from where they had emerged in the first place with their columns. Though columnists write on all subjects under the sun, the most popular ones are the political commentators. They pretend to have an insight into everyday politics that readers or newspaper reporters don’t. By their very nature, columnists inhabit ivory towers and glasshouses, and throwing stones from there is a freedom they have been granted no matter how many glasses they shatter. Those like Menon whose collection of columns and exclusive essays titled, “Why Don’t You Write Something I Might Read?” is the target of this review, however, manages to skirt the mundane everyday politics and inhabit a space that is more esoteric: books, philosophy, art and sport. In most places, the writers and readers of such pieces are called culture vultures but that is mostly out of jealousy I feel. Menon survives on aloofness—from everyday nuisances that are fodder for other columnists and to throwing too many stones at others. This collection of his columns makes for great reading, often prodding us to visit a Bengaluru bookshop to take a look, inviting us to have a go at unknown writers like Stephen Pinker or known writers like George Orwell, or enticing us to view his recounting of encounters with Naipaul or scientist VS Ramachandran. All his columns are aimed at an anglophone audience.

 

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Why Don’t You Write Something I Might Read? Shutterstock

Largely, his columns are about his visits to the Bengaluru bookshops, some of which I have visited along. If not for new books at least some antiquated ones in the hope that one can fish out first editions kept there by mistake, and hurray, I can make a million-selling them on the web. Menon also describes how we should find our way in a bookshop and how Ram Guha’s method is quite different (walking clockwise and finishing with the new arrivals). In an anthology of column, it is difficult to pin the best, for in Menon’s case a lot of thought and wry humour goes into each. Humour of course is a forgotten method in Indian journalese, but Menon soldiers on with the casual ease of a veteran and the confidence of a stand-up: the snide ones, heavy ones, sick ones, and stone-throwing ones keeping old worn out writer/editors like me sufficiently happy. The collection, though mostly lit-crit and bookshop memoir, is also a sweep through Indian writing in English. But Menon’s range and reading is vast. He even informs that it was on Vijayadasmi day 1930 when Narayan wrote the first line of his first novel, Swami and Friends. He also informs us that if you feel nostalgic for a place that never was, there is a word for it—anemoia. One hopes that The Hindu continues to patronise such erudite culture columns, which don’t gather many hits on the website (as compared to the story on who designed Alia Bhatt's sari). Such columns and Menon’s writings go a long way in reminding us that crassness is not everything, and that without these we will end up feeling a bit anemoiac. 

Binoo K. John is a senior journalist based in New Delhi

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