In my first month of living in Singapore, I found myself in midst of European neighbours who would laze around near the swimming pool in our condo with a book or kindle in their hands, fruits and drinks on the table nearby. They would read, swim, eat, sun bathe and basically spend the entire day outside. Inspired, I rushed to the nearest book store and got myself a book before I bought myself a pillow!
The nearest book store belongs to a chain of Japanese book stores, Konikuniya, widely popular in the city. Our neighbour has all Japanese speciality stores for books, groceries, beauty and wellness. It turns out a lot of Europeans, Americans, Australians have Japanese spouses in this locality. Konikuniya has a huge collection of comic books. It reminded me of the comic book store frequently visited by characters of The Big Bang Theory, with so many comic book titles I had never heard of, many coming from Japanese/Korean origin. More than two-thirds of the store was dedicated to Japanese books. In the English section I could hardly found few favourite authors such as Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh and only 1-2 titles by them. It was otherwise filled with usual merchandise of Jeffery Archer, Sidney Sheldon likes. Wonder who reads them now! I asked the manager at desk to search a Wodehouse for me, and there was none. An Enid Blyton, it wasn’t there either. To think of it, this island wasn’t really a British colony. It was really a port influenced by other regions as much as Britain. Hence, why should I expect to find the favourite English authors of colonized India?
I decided to look in the “local” authors’ section. I looked for a book which can to some extent answer these questions I have about this country. Who are Singaporeans? What are their traditions? Their history? Their local customs? So I picked up the book which talked about a period just after Singapore got independent from Malaysia and was at the first step of becoming “developed”. The author of the book was called something of a “revolutionary”.
Well, the book started off well with stories about two very different youths starting their careers on different paths: one pragmatic and another idealistic, with different visions of what their country needs. However, there is a lot of mention about the role religion (Christianity in this case) plays on the protagonist which I simply couldn’t relate to. I never thought Singaporeans to be religious people. Nonetheless, while reading the book I realized that at least a part of the youth at some time in their history, had exactly the same concerns regarding family approval, job security, development of their newly found country like we had/have. At one point, while reading the book I almost forgot that it was based out of Singapore and not India. I guess most of the countries which found freedom during the last 40-50 years would have faced the same concerns.
I didn’t go back to the bookstore again, instead found myself a library nearby. There is reasonably priced annual membership if you wish to borrow books. However, they open their different floors for studying and browsing reference materials to absolutely anyone & completely free of charge! It is remarkable how the facility is spotlessly clean, with a great view of outside, free access to wifi, equipped with vending machines that throw out freshly toasted sandwiches and an open terrace with tree and benches. The best part about the library is that unlike any other library I have been to (only the college ones in India), this one has visitors who are actually interested in learning and I see them slogging hard on their notebooks and laptops.