Justice Bigtalk

They say that the new generation does not buy books.
They say that the culture of reading books has diminished, if not vanished.
And they point to libraries being empty and bookshops shutting down.

They have a point.
But their assumptions are not entirely correct.

The reading habit has not decreased but increased.
However, most people are reading off screens rather than from paper books.
Digital is being preferred to physical chiefly for convenience.
Not only is there paucity of space but e-books are much cheaper than paperbacks and supposedly more environment friendly.

It is in this scenario that the physical paperback books made a huge comeback on the pavements of Mumbai.
These are simply unauthorised copies of all the latest bestsellers.
But of late they are so well produced that they often look better than the originals, thanks to use of advanced digital technology and better quality paper by the book pirates.

These books are typically sold at 20% of the MRP of the same books in original, legal editions.
As a result, pirated versions are often cheaper than official Kindle Editions.

The area around the Bombay High Court is teeming with pavement booksellers.
Placards proclaiming “Pick Up Any Book for Rs.100” are common.
And all the latest bestselling books are freely available in pirated editions.

There was a time when the official publishers would lodge complaints and pressurize the authorities to conduct raids and seize the pirated books.
Now they seem to have thrown in the towel.

Some big publishers had even moved the HC seeking a mandamus to the law enforcement authorities to activate in practice the laws lying dormant on paper.
As it happens in such matters, apart from delivering homilies and sermons to the authorities and asking them to initiate action, precious little was achieved.

The milord who heard that piracy case, however, got a lot of publicity in the media during those days.
And as a result, he was invited by a few law colleges and rotary clubs to lecture on the ‘Menace of Piracy’.
We can call him Justice Bigtalk.

I happened to attend one such lecture as a friend who was a professor at the law college had been quite insistent that I attend.
And what a lucid lecture it was!
Justice Bigtalk, who was a Ph.D.in something, held forth to the students on how piracy was a big crime as it involved theft of intellectual property of the creator of the artistic work.
He pointed out how the poor authors got nothing, the publishers got nothing and only the copiers were making money!
He ended his lecture by making the audience “pledge” that henceforth they would never buy anything except a legal copy of any book.

The students gave him a standing ovation.
Bigtalk went home pleased with himself.

About a month after this great event, I happened to be in the Fort area on a non-court-working Saturday.
Many lawyers do come to their chambers on such days when the courts are closed to attend to miscellaneous work.
We always dress in coloured casuals on such days.
It is a refreshing break from our usual black and white..or shades of grey.

Most of the pirated book sellers used to be second-hand books sellers earlier and preserved that stock of old books in case they were warned of a raid by their friendly sympathisers.
Then they simply displayed those old books and hid the pirated ones.
The 100 rupee placards were replaced by 20 and 50 rupee ones!

I love to browse through such old books on pavements as one can often discover some old classic or out-of-print edition at a throwaway price.

On that Saturday, as I was indulging in this familiar weekend activity, I noticed a gentleman in a bright red T-shirt and blue denim jeans haggling with my friendly bookseller about the price of some books he had picked up.

This is how the conversation progressed:

Customer: Hum teen kitaab lega. Bolo kitne me dega?

Bookseller: Sahab pirated books mein kya milega?
Sirf 100 mein de rahey hai. Official price 499 hai.

Customer: Tumko maloom hai ye illegal hai?

Bookseller: Sahab, hum kahan zabardasti kar raha hai? Aap dukaan se le lijiye. Woh MRP pe 20% off denge.

Customer: Agar wahan se lena hota toh mai idhar kyun aata?

Bookseller: Sahab aap kitna dena chahte hai?

Customer: Hum teen kitab ka 200 dega!

Bookseller: Nahin parwadega sahab.
Humko bas 10 rupaye milte hai ek book ke peeche..

I was finding this conversation most irritating..because on the one hand this customer was talking about legality and then haggling about pirated books!

So I turned to look at him.

And who do you think it was?

He was wearing big dark sunglasses..but there was no mistaking him.
It was Justice Bigtalk!

As I was staring at him with the three pirated books in his hands, I could see that “shock of recognition” on his face too!
When he saw me staring at the books he quickly put them down, turned around and briskly walked away..

I smiled and turned towards my bookseller friend.
He was obviously quite oblivious about the identity of the haggling customer who had vanished so suddenly..but the question he posed spontaneously  was quite funny..

“Dekha na sahaab yahan kaise-kaise log chale aate hain?”

I wish the collegiums who select “kaise-kaise log” could hear such questions from the street..and if possible, provide some answers.