ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Book Clubs and the Dialectics of Privilege

Sometimes, book clubs are spaces where the privileged come to feel less guilty about their power.


When Article 370 of the Constitution of India was abrogated and agony swept through Kashmir—its telephone lines cut, internet snapped, and the press strangled—my friends at the book club sang Habba Khatoon’s verses and discussed Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (2010) to “simulate” the experience of living in Kashmir. When Dalit boys were flogged to death for using the tube well in a Maratha loca­lity or Dalit girls burnt at midnight to remove traces of a brutal gang rape, the bibliophiles debated exactly how casteist M K Gandhi was. Pogroms were rehearsed and executed, minarets pulled down and replaced with saffron flags, and migrant workers died of heat exhaustion while returning to their villages on foot, but nothing could keep the book club from organising its meetups. Blood continued to flow in the Jhelum as we read Lal Ded. Muslims were accused of “corona jihad” as we debated the correct interpretations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry. George Floyds were lynched and Manisha Valmikis murdered one more time, but we kept dog-earing pages, correcting each other’s grammar, asking for book recommendations online.

Book readings, here, are cathartic, therapeutic sessions where the privileged come to feel less guilty about their power so that they can continue to keep it. They read books like Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan (2003), sigh and allow it to cause them pain for the next few hours, weeping into their pillows over-analysing their nihilistic nightmares. Then they wake up and pick up the next book. The privileged read books to understand a slice of the experience of the marginalised and believe that the mere discovery (or acknowledgement) of it is activism. They dip their tongues into B R Ambedkar’s literature to get a taste of oppression and announce themselves as qualified enough to hold on to their stolen mics. These book clubs are self-congratulatory purgatories. They are medicinal moral-cleansing procedures of the ones whose fates are written from the blood of other communities. But activism does not end at awareness; revolution is not just a reading spree; equality cannot only be achieved by “agreeing to disagree” over political opinions on Facebook. The energy on paper is titillating, but it must materialise into action—allyship is not charity; someone’s tormenting emotional journey is not an opportunity for the rehabilitation of one’s conscience.

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Updated On : 8th Jan, 2022
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