Monday, 11 June 2012

Bacon versus the Bishop of Winchester

What makes a complete man?

`Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man’ said Sir Francis Bacon, English author, courtier and philosopher (1561 - 1626).

William of Wykeham, the Bishop of Winchester (1324 - 1404) and the founder of Oxford, believed `Manners makyth man', which even today stand as the motto of Oxford.

I think I’ll go with Bacon. Reading is one habit I’m fortunate to have acquired, and which continues to be a source of such blessed comfort. I’ve passed it down to one of my kids, which is a 50% achievement – and if Sid and Sowmya finish the one Wodehouse that I have mandated for each of them, I guess I’ll be able to live with myself...

Books are a haven, an escape, an adventure – a gift you can open again and again. The idea of censorship and banning of books – and the extreme burning of books is, therefore, anathema to my senses, and vitiates the very idea of civilisation.  

The death of Ray Bradbury last week set me thinking. Basically a science fiction writer, he will best be remembered for his seminal work `Farenheit 451’. Bradbury talks of a society in which books are illegal. Farenheit 451, the title, refers to the temperature at which paper catches fire. A society that is so overwhelmed by television and short attention spans that books are seen as a threat to public safety and happiness. Books seen as dangerous and offensive to minority groups are burnt! 

The antithesis of a Utopian society is a dystopian one. It is a society marked by utter repression and control, in which suspicion and coercion are the norms. A dystopian society is one in which the state or a ruling oligarchy takes away the rights of its citizens for ‘their own good’.

In China, the banning of books is an ancient ritual.  Germany under the Nazis used to light bonfires of books written by Jewish authors. Iran, under Khomeini, passed a death sentence on Salman Rushdie for writing `The Satanic Verses’. The government of India has an abysmal record of kowtowing to religious extremists of all hues and shades and banning books.

Today we are bombarded by highly sophisticated propaganda from all sides. TV anchors rave and rant, so called activists spew dangerous nonsense while purporting to speak on behalf of citizens like you and me, and even in the printed word, considered viewpoints are losing out to the Chetan Bhagats! 

The protest against internet censorship by masked `activists’ is another matter. Kapil Sibal’s puerile attempts aside, the plain fact is that today it is well nigh impossible to try and block the internet where thousands of hours of video and terabytes of data are uploaded every minute! 

Do the protesters have a case at all? How much freedom of speech is ok? Would you allow a man to scream “Fire!” inside a crowded theatre as an extension of his freedom of speech? With freedom comes responsibility - no freedom can, therefore, be absolute.  

 PS. A word to the `Anonymous’ hackers - Guy Fawkes, whose mask has become the symbol of your protest — was never ever Anonymous.


  1. Firstly, I guess I belong at Oxford :)
    Secondly, I agree with you that banning of books is bordering oligarchy! And yes, I did have to look up oligarchy in a dictionary, among many other words from the post above. Censorship seems to be the norm these days across Asia, what with Pakistan banning Twitter and India giving Vimeo the heave-ho. And these are the more liberal states of the sub continent. Satanic Verses still wreaks havoc in India, most recently taking away all the limelight from the recent Jaipur literary fest.
    While censorship is definitely required to some degree, I feel we have become a less tolerant, a less patient breed from what your generation faced. How else do you explain the 50 year old cartoons being taken off text books? Political agenda to take the heat off P Chidambram some say, may be!
    Finally, the PG Wodehouse is still work in progress, and Uncle Fred in Springtime shall be conquered soon!

  2. Enjoyed this one as much as all the others you have written. I must add that Sid Puri's comment on this post is just as interesting. PG Wodehouse not withstanding I feel there is a writer in Sid Puri waiting to be unleashed.