After a day and two nights of wasted time we had eight hours or so to take our recreation, to scour the roads for cigarette ends, to beg, and to look for work. Someone begins to improvise, probably accompanying himselfon a musical instrument, somebody else chips in with a line or a rhymewhen the first singer breaks down, and so the process continues until thereexists a whole song or ballad which has no identifiable author. When you think of the coal-mine you think of depth, heat, darkness, blackened figures hacking at walls of coal; you don't think, necessarily, of those miles of creeping to and fro. Even under the tightest dictatorship,cannot the individual writer remain free inside his own mind and distillor disguise his unorthodox ideas in such a way that the authorities willbe too stupid to recognize them? A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probablyset up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common senseheld good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could bedisregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come round with their catalogues as early as June. The prisoner, in the grasp of the two warders, looked on incuriously, as though this was another formality of the hanging. The convicts, under the command of warders armed with lathis, were already receiving their breakfast.
On the whole—in spite of my employer's kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop—no. The conveyor belt shoots it on to tubs, and the tubs are shoved into the main road and hitched on to an endlessly revolving steel cable which drags them to the cage. In many spikes one sleeps on a wooden shelf, and in some on the bare floor, with a rolled-up coat for pillow. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. We were too tired to talk much.
And so because of diction, narrative-point-of-view, and tone, this has been made into a very engaging and enjoyable read. The world is too much with them. Instead, the stint as a shop assistant has left an unpleasant memory of eccentric customers and the smell of the dead bluebottles. Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. There was a time when I really did love books — loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. . It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead.
This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive. Hardly one of the things I have imagined will still be there. There is no real evidence and one can only judge by the event, but I suspect that what the Government is playing for is a compromise that would leave the war situation essentially in being. The constant barrage of dull questions, the parlous finances of the business, the incessant arguments with staff and the unending, exhausting, haggling customers have reduced me to this. The way he is writing this essay, it makes it sound like he is actually just telling the story to someone, when in fact, he is writing it out. Books also tart smelling bad during the cold days. The people have brown faces—besides, there are so many of them! Erg cynisch, en voor mij niet herkenbaar.
He took no notice of titles or author's names, but he could tell by merely glancing into a book whether be had 'had it already'. Modern books for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in the mass. You tell him that he is confusing the issue, that he is splitting the anti-Fascist forces, that this is not the moment for revolutionary phrase-mongering, that for the moment we have got to fight against Fascism without inquiring too closely what we are fighting for. But the cult is often adopted by people who are not by birth Northerners themselves. It was a gloomy, chilly, limewashed place, consisting only of a bathroom and dining-room and about a hundred narrow stone cells.
Very often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment he had gone. Some elderly women, with no knowledge of books at all, came looking to buy some to be given away as birthday presents to younger folks. Alreadythere are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientifictextbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is the easiest crime in the world to borrow a book at one shop for twopence, remove the label and sell it at another shop for a shilling. I believe, though, that the writers are more to blame here than the readers. But it is quite a mistake to think that they enjoy it. Would I like to be a bookseller de métier? There is no doubt about the Englishman's inbred conviction that those who live to the south of him are his inferiors; even our foreign policy is governed by it to some extent.
It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles. One of them delivered a speechwhich did deal with the freedom of the press, but only in relation to India;another said, hesitantly, and in very general terms, that liberty was agood thing; a third delivered an attack on the laws relating to obscenityin literature. But when he came to myself, he looked hard at me, and said: 'You are a gentleman? None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away without paying for them; merely to order them was enough — it gave them, I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money. A working-class family hangs together as a middle-class one does, but the relationship is far less tyrannical. Orwell is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four published in 1949 and the satirical novella Animal Farm 1945 — they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. When I am digging trenches in my garden, if I shift two tons of earth during the afternoon, I feel that I have earned my tea.
Since 2001, when I bought the shop, there have been tectonic shifts in the book trade, to which we have had no choice but to adapt. But it was the industrialization of the North that gave the North-South antithesis its peculiar slant. And another is the unpopularity of short stories. There were other elderly ladies who wanted books about whose name, author or content they remembered nothing barring the fact that it had a red cover. Seriousprose, in any case, has to be composed in solitude, whereas the excitementof being part of a group is actually an aid to certain kinds of versification. Nevertheless booksellers generally find that it pays them better to have a certain number of books stolen we used to lose about a dozen a month than to frighten customers away by demanding a deposit.
We defiled the scene, like sardine-tins and paper bags on the seashore. Besides, most bookshops and libraries have vanished in Karachi as few people are interested in reading books. The phenomena Orwell describes still happen to this day and I can vouch for them from personal experiences. It came bounding among us with a loud volley of barks, and leapt round us wagging its whole body, wild with glee at finding so many human beings together. If book readers were rare in 1936 when the essay was written, then now it must be like searching for an oasis in the Sahara or the Kalahari desert. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all.