Until recently, I hadn’t quite given thought on the cost of books and cigarettes that I am used to buying nonchalantly. I have quite a possession of books since I began reading voraciously seven years ago when the college threw me out of science department and placed me with students of humanities steam. It was due to lack of any aptitude or attitude from my part which led me to first, being suspended from college and then being reinstated in another stream, of course conditionally. I was one of those rotten tomato which the education system in Nepal detests.
I was reticent, observant and a brute at heart; dispatching inquiries of rather derisive nature to the administration, revolting against any sort of authoritative rules and bonking classes whenever I fancied. I was a libertine and the college was my transit to a chaotic vision of teenage glory.
It was truly in college, when I began reading rather voraciously. I had a rather spirited English literature teacher who appeared comical. He was almost five foot and had snubbed nose, puffed cheek and adenoidal voice. For teenage students, he was gold mine for back bench banter. I may have ridiculed him too, back in the days, but I had great respect for a man who had no interest in the banking concept of education.
Since my introduction to literature, reading books has been my favorite pass time. I read everything. From Dostoevsky to Kerouac to Devkota, I read whatever my eyes behold; newspapers, magazines, flyers, political manifestos to Facebook statuses. I even read a lot of phrases which are painted thoughtfully in the rear end of trucks and public buses. I like alphabets and how it reels into words and the words prance around into sentences which in turn become prose, verses, poems, novels and essays. My favorite alphabet is ‘x’ because it looks really cool.
Recently, I chanced to read an article by George Orwell, Books v. Cigarettes which appeared in the Tribune in the fall of 1946. He tries to demystify the concept of buying books as beyond the reach of the average person by sharing his own experience and of being a voracious reader and a regular smoker and comparing the costs. To my astonishment, I never thought that cost of smoking cigarettes over a certain period of time can be greater than the cost of total number of book I brought over the same period of time.
At length, I counted the number of books in my library and there are 95 works of fiction, 15 books on poetry, 12 philosophical treaties, 12 works of non-fiction (on literature, ideologies and commentaries) 11 memoirs, 7 biographies and 3 autobiographies. None borrowed, mostly first hand and acquired voluntarily. Although some have been gifted, but being a person who returns the favor, I figure it’s the same and needs not be calculated. Also it must be noticed that I have excluded junk reads like old textbooks, magazines and newspaper subscriptions from my calculations.
Calculating the price of these books is a rather tedious work and I relied on guesswork on this experiment. I realized that most of the books are Wordsworth editions followed by Penguin classics, Everyman Books, Jagadamba Press and Fine Prints in my possession.
I took into consideration, the average of each publications which implies that it will cost me around 600-700 rupees for each book that I have brought. For the last seven years, I have spent around (max. 700 rupees* total books=) NPR 1, 08,500 on acquiring books.
Now, being a smoker, I would like to categorize myself as a regular sort of smoker. As per the national standard, for a Nepali to be a regular smoker, one has to smoke at least 8-10 cigarettes a day. (This assumption is entirely based on hearsay and tea shop observations) The cost of tobacco has inflated a bit in the last seven years. One could buy two Surya Red cigarettes for 10 rupees back then. Now it costs from 10-15 rupees depending on which part of the country you are buying. So, lets set the average of 7.5 rupees per Surya cigarette for our sake in the last seven years period. One will have smoked around 7.5 rupees* min. 8 Cigarettes a day* 365 days* 7 Years = 1, 53,300 rupees of cigarettes in the same period.
“On average, a Nepali tobacco user spends about five percent of their income on tobacco products.”
I wonder how much percent of their income we spend on buying books for the sake of recreational reading. I hope someone does such a survey in Nepal.
Here, I can ask myself a question: Am I an average Nepali? Based on our projection of per capita income at mere USD 862 in 2017, I am far from an average Nepali. But, if an average Nepali earns 7,399 rupees per month then, as per the above statement, an average Nepali will be spending 370 rupees on cigarettes per month.
If my estimation of 600-700 rupees per book is considered a reference point, then an average Nepali, with the cost of cigarette can afford to read a book for recreational purposes every two months. Here, I will remind that most of the books in my possession are in English meaning that they are not printed in Nepal and are probably imported by bookstores from India. Most of the books printed in Nepal cost way less. The most popular book in the last decade, Karnali Blues by Buddhi Sagar cost me 350 rupees. Soch by Karna Shakya cost 300 rupees. Nepal ko Rajnitik Itihas by Pitambar Lal Yadav cost me 100 rupees. Well, I guess it depends on what one is inclined to read (Author, Publication house, Nepali or English/translated books) most of the time but I feel that I have drawn quite a positive picture here.
The notion that buying books is beyond the reach of average person is just bullocks. One has to admit that reading books for recreation is a boring occupation and one would rather have tea and cigarettes in our favorite cafes, or go to the movies or TGIF with friends and relatives.
I am not lending now. Buy your own books people.
P.S. Smoking is injurious to health!