The Anti-National Library: Nightmares — and waking fears — of a reader who keeps dangerous books

In my nightmare, I am in cuffs, watching burly men in hazmat suits picking my library apart. One of the men informs me that already, several boxes of Highly Incriminating Evidence have been seized. The charges read like a Greatest Hits Package of Indian judicial overreach — sedition, conspiring against the state, insulting Hinduism and so on.

Aditya Mani Jha September 02, 2019 09:31:00 IST
The Anti-National Library: Nightmares — and waking fears — of a reader who keeps dangerous books
  • In my nightmare, I am in cuffs, watching burly men in hazmat suits picking my library apart.

  • One of the men informs me that already, several boxes of Highly Incriminating Evidence have been seized.

  • The charges read like a Greatest Hits Package of Indian judicial overreach — sedition, conspiring against the state, insulting Hinduism and so on.

Today will be a good day, I am sure of it. It started, after all, with a bit of a lucid dream involving my death, so things can only improve now.

There I am in cuffs, watching burly men in hazmat suits picking my library apart, my cats watching from their carriers (one of ‘em had the good graces to urinate on my captor-in-chief). One of the men informs me that already, several boxes of Highly Incriminating Evidence have been seized. The charges read like a Greatest Hits Package of Indian judicial overreach — sedition, conspiring against the state, insulting Hinduism and so on. Almost every charge comes with a few paperbacks’ worth of Highly Incriminating Evidence attached. For each book, my captor-in-chief provides his own running commentary over a Dictaphone, addressed to his senior officer.

The AntiNational Library Nightmares  and waking fears  of a reader who keeps dangerous books

Exhibit A: “Blasphemous title sullying the good name of Hindu cows — claiming, would you believe it, that there was a time when Brahmins happily ate beef. Suspect clearly aims to destroy our culture, our values and the Hindu way of life. Worse, he’s almost certainly a beef-eater himself.”

The AntiNational Library Nightmares  and waking fears  of a reader who keeps dangerous books

Exhibit B: “A strange, deceptive book. It has black-and-white cartoons and speech bubbles, indicating that it is a children’s book, but the subject matter is inappropriate for children and adults alike. It is filled with page after page of falsehoods about the Indian army in Kashmir. The only true statement in the book, as far as we could see, was that the Kashmiri people would never accept a foreign army occupying their homeland (this is, of course, a clear allusion to the Pakistani army, Sir, although they looked awfully similar to our jawans in every way — black-and-white drawings, you see).”

The AntiNational Library Nightmares  and waking fears  of a reader who keeps dangerous books

Exhibit C: “Although a thorough search of the premises yielded no drugs, we believe that the Suspect is guilty of possessing and distributing several narcotics and psychotropic substances. The evidence speaks for itself, Sir — the titles of these books tell us, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the Suspect is a habitual consumer of opium, heroin and ecstasy.”

The AntiNational Library Nightmares  and waking fears  of a reader who keeps dangerous books

Exhibit D: “We believe the Suspect to be a lecherous man, prone to bouts of lewd behavior. He is not fit to be around decent, cultured ladies. We invite you, Sir, to take a look at the titles of these books —‘Making Love to Marilyn Monroe: The Faber Book of Blue Verse’ (in my 30-year career, Sir, I have seen many blue films, but blue verse? First time). Then there’s the well-known dirty book Lolita. The third one, My Name is Will, claims to be “a novel of sex, drugs and Shakespeare” (this confirms our previous point about Suspect’s drug habit). And just look at the last one: ‘Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John’. We believe Suspect is a regular whoremonger.”

The AntiNational Library Nightmares  and waking fears  of a reader who keeps dangerous books

Exhibit E: “Suspect feels loyalty towards Pakistan, as is clear from this ‘Granta: Pakistan’ title. When we asked him if he also had a book or a magazine called ‘Granta: India’, Suspect started laughing and suggested that we look for the magazine…in a very unsanitary place, Sir.”

The AntiNational Library Nightmares  and waking fears  of a reader who keeps dangerous books

Exhibit F: “Suspect is obsessed with both Hitler and Lenin. The titles could not be more clear, really — ‘Lenin’s Kisses’, ‘The Third Reich’, ‘Nazi Literature in the Americas’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’. Upon Google Search research, we found that the author of two of these books, this Roberto Bolaño, supported the notorious Chilean socialist Salvador Allende, who had all sorts of dangerous ideas like workers’ rights, free milk for schoolkids and so on.”

The AntiNational Library Nightmares  and waking fears  of a reader who keeps dangerous books

Exhibit G: “Finally, we informed Suspect about the various criminal charges he would face in court soon. In response, he handed us this book and suggested that every officer reporting to me would do well to read it. As you can see, Sir, this is a very disturbed and dangerous individual, who wants to turn the social order upside down.”

Anyway, inside the dream, I can see myself in front of the judge, just like my captor-in-chief said I’d be. The judge is telling me, “These are serious charges. Why did you keep all this objectionable material at your house? You will have to explain yourself.”

I’m silent.

“Did you hear me? You will have to explain yourself! Right away!”

I’m silent.

"Very well, then. Given the absence of any contrition or reparatory measures on the part of the accused, we have no choice but to order him to hand over his library — or be awarded the maximum punishment, the death penalty."

I smile at the judge and say, “I choose death”. And that’s when I woke up, from this uneasy dream, into a reality every bit as tragicomic.

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