A Page Out of a Bygone Era

Jul 25, 2011

To demonstrate my sophistication and superior taste, I bought myself the “Book of Nothing”. A man-about-town had to be owning something funky and groovy…

I was young and I was impressionable. It was a time when the skimpy “choosh” pants were being edged out of the closet by the silo-sized “GOGO” pants that became the rage of the day. It was “stylish” to sport an unruly, long and wildly flowing hairstyle known as the “Jesus cut” – not the sleek, pony-tailed type that the present-day aficionados prefer. One of the things that was in vogue those heady days was to be seen to be outlandish, nonconformist and something of a weirdo. The highest form of fashion sense was when you dared show a bit of your bottom peeping out of the opening that you intentionally slashed into your jeans. I was too much of a traditionalist and so I wasn’t into all that. But in keeping with the times, and to demonstrate my sophistication and superior taste, I bought myself this utterly meaningless book titled “Book of Nothing”. A man-about-town had to be owning something funky and groovy. And, this book was simply far-out!

It was a regular A4-sized book, immaculately bound with its title exquisitely embossed in a text that exuded class and refinement. Inside, it contained pages upon pages of beautifully textured paper of the highest quality – containing absolutely NOTHING – except for a single short sentence at the bottom of each sheet – printed in the minutest print possible, resembling that of a insurance policy fine print that promises you nothing for everything. The small prints at the bottom of each of the pages read something like: “Nothing for nothing” or “It is very difficult to do nothing” or “You get nothing for nothing” etc.

On Sunday afternoons, I would take the book to such chic places as the Flury’s in Kolkata, select a corner table that is the most brightly lit among all the tables in the great hall – for visual effect. The measure of your standing is judged by how promptly a waiter presents himself to serve you. Anyone needing to raise his hand or holler for the attention of a waiter is looked upon with pity and disdain. Having invested a substantial sum in generous tips during my past visits to the establishment, waiters jostled and scrambled to attend to my table. The most nimble-footed would edge out the rest and approach my table and, with supreme congeniality ask me, in usual formality, “Your usual, Sir?” 

My “usual” would be a pot of fine Darjeeling tea and an assortment of pastries. While the waiter disappears into the back room to fill in my order, I would pull out my Book of Nothing and make a suave, visual survey of the great Flury’s tearoom – to see if there were anyone who I recognised. Even if there were, a knowing smile and a gentle nod of the head were all that was needed to acknowledge his/her presence. Anything beyond that was considered unsophisticated and inferior.

As the waiter begins to fawn all over me serving tea and laying out the pastries, I would begin my great act of reading the book with undistracted attention – unhindered by the clang and clatter of the cutlery of a great mass of people having their afternoon tea. To complete the show, my eyes would be strained with intense concentration at the blank pages of the Book of Nothing. Occasionally, an acquaintance would pass by my table and seek my permission to flip through the blank pages of the book and utter some words of appreciation such as, “Ah .. so refreshingly different and … umm … unique”- to demonstrate his/her own level of sophistication and worldliness.

Ah .. so refreshingly different and … umm … unique.

The next sophisticated thing I did was to buy myself a largish, black and white, horizontally oriented comic book titled “The Fillipino Food”. During a period when quaint little comic books with prim and proper characters right out of the Mills & Boon classics were the order of the day, this comic book was filled with morbid graphics of an energetic hero brandishing a gargantuan syringe in place of his manhood. While he himself experienced a star-spangled orgasmic release, the person whom he poked shrivelled and died away. On one of the 60-odd pages of the book, a woman was shown lying on her back with her legs spread wide open and a TV screen in place of her Kesang Buthri. On it was depicted the cosmic mandala, the Milky Way and the gateway to the heavens. All these abstract renderings were totally beyond my sophistication and intellect – finally exposing me for the country bumpkin that I really was.

One portrayal in the comic book that remained etched in my mind over the years is its depiction of the human race sprouting out of an old, stinking tennis shoe. I clearly understood and commiserated with this uncommon theory. That is why, perhaps, the human race, even after so many centuries of continuous evolution, still secretes the stink and the stench of its place of origin.


This post was first published on Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon in July 2011.