Pico, who has just come back after “an uplifting trip to Benares” where he had gone “visiting the ghats, the aarti, the sunset” and “experienced the whole Ganga-Jumni tehzeeb in those little lanes and shops”, is clear that the future is bright for writers here. “Writing is not so dodgy anymore. At the airport in Delhi, I saw 60 to 70 per cent people were reading something, maybe a book, maybe a newspaper or a magazine while waiting for their planes. In Japan, they would have been playing games on the mobile, in the U.S. they would have been preening!”
Fadiman’s anthology isn’t only about the joys of re-reading but also its snares. You could discover, for instance, that re-reading a favourite book no longer offers that thrill of mysterious connection you once felt. Still, re re-reading Rereadings (!) I wondered if this wasn’t the most ideal way to read books? To know one book well than to know many peripherally seems like something worth pursuing.
very once in a while — sometimes in a very long while — you come across a book that you wish would not finish. You savour each sentence, linger long over each turning page, go back every once in a while and often put the book down to abs orb the full meaning of what has just been read. Such was Graham Greene’s The End of an Affair which I caressed slowly to its last page in a small district town. Such has been The Great Gatsby which I end up reading every couple of years and never fail to turn up some new and exciting insight. And this month it has been Michael Ondaatje’s marvellous poem of a novel, The English Patient.
What does one do with a book like that? Except read it again and again.
Next time you are at a social gathering, try this little experiment. Ask friends and family to name a female scientist. Most will come up with the name of Nobel laureate Marie Curie; some may mention the unheralded Rosalind Franklin. No one seems to know of accomplished Indian women in science. Our textbooks don’t speak of such pioneering figures; newspapers rarely run profiles of present day female researchers.
This anthology of essays featuring nearly one hundred Indian women scientists — from the Victorian era to our times — fills a void then. Every chapter is the story of a woman scientist of India. Contemporary women give first-person accounts of what brought them to the field of research and what keeps them going. Amateur writers present the narratives of memorable personalities who are no more. Their stories are compelling even when the writing lacks finesse.