God and the chatty bookseller of Bali | india | Hindustan Times
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God and the chatty bookseller of Bali

I think democracy is bs,” said the spike-haired, sharp-eyed bookseller in Bali, without rhyme or reason. “Oh God,” I said distractedly, trying to choose a couple of secondhand books for holiday reading, since I’d already raced through the one I’d brought along. Renuka Narayanan writes.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2012 22:49 IST
Renuka Narayanan

I think democracy is bs,” said the spike-haired, sharp-eyed bookseller in Bali, without rhyme or reason. “Oh God,” I said distractedly, trying to choose a couple of secondhand books for holiday reading, since I’d already raced through the one I’d brought along. “Talk to me!” he said, pulling out a plastic chair and offering me a clove-scented Sampoorna cigarette. “Arre baba, do you have an attention problem?” I said mildly, “Talk to the Australians, I just need to buy your books.” “Talk to me! You’re from India, aren’t you? I don't meet many Indians. What do you think about democracy? What do you think about God? I’m Muslim, what are you?”

Clearly there was no escape except to walk away and I so wanted to look at the books, there were at least two unread Joanna Trollopes lurking between the bumph on girls, guns and gadgets and I was pleased to see Vikram Seth, Amitava Ghosh, Chitra Divakaruni-Banerjee and, God bless us all, ‘Malgudi Days’ and also something promisingly titled ‘The Revenge of the Middle-aged Woman’ except I couldn't be bothered, not on holiday, when I'd gone snorkeling and scampered up and down hillsides and lava-rock monuments and dashed to cool off into friendly, boulder-strewn rivers that looked like the Betwa or the Shipra.

“I’m from Sumatra,” he announced, which got me because of Rajendra Chola’s navy going there to whup King Vijayatunga who was reportedly harassing the Chettiyars in their China trade. I sat down and really looked at him. “Why do you have a long, straight nose?” he asked. “Why is mine flat?” “Who cares?” I said, “You have lots of existential questions and I don’t know the answers. Why do you think badly of democracy?” “Does it make life better for the poor?” he asked. I gaped at him, this straight-talking young liberal with whom I shared ancient history. “Why do you want to know my religion?” I asked. “Everybody is fighting about religion. What do you think?” “I think it’s stupid to fight,” I said, “I’m sure God doesn’t approve of it.” He shot me a keen look. “And you’re Hindu?” he said. “Do you think God cares?” I asked. “Twenty thousand rupiah only,” he grinned and handed me ‘The Best of Friends’ with a flourish. “Sukshma,” I said, which is “Thank you” in Balinese. “Om Swasti Astu,” he said, “Greetings”; and we parted cordially in a haze of clove.

- Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture.