One of the things that has served me well throughout my academic life has been the skill of skimming over many pages of dense text and zooming, with the alacrity of a hungry hawk, on to that part of the document relevant for me. And I owe this skill in no small measure to the works of Harold Robbins and of the lately deceased Sidney Sheldon.
Late 80s. No relief on pre-cable Rajiv-Darshan for the horizon-broadening early-teen. The mind turned to the printed word—-but the only English books allowed at home for “bhodro” (good) kids were the classics (Moby Books with one side text and one side pictures where a glimpse of Estella’s cartoon cleavage was the only possible great expectation), Famous Five and Nancy Drew, the juiceless products of the Communist state otherwise known as Vostok publications, Tintin, Asterix….you get the picture. The “bad” kids, the ones who got “guardian calls” and had red in their report cards, smuggled in these dog-eared Sheldon-Robbins books to school which we, with shaking hands and smoky breath, would leaf through rapidly trying to focus in on the good parts, in the brief minute before “tiffin” ended.
And what a world it was. Screw the “Gajab ka hain din”-style running around trees and the juvenile “Oye Oye”s —-this was the real deal.