My Life With Books: Dhirender Nirwani

Based in Goa, Dhirender is a former digital media specialist and was country manager at IBM. He now works at CraftGully, which he co-founded in 2012. Dhirender is an avid reader, with an eclectic range of interests. We talk to him about his favourite books, his take on video taking over the world and his fondness for the Kindle.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Predictably Irrational. This is a pretty fascinating book which delves into what we humans tend to base our decisions on, and how it may not be as rational as we would like to believe.

In school and college, were books a big part of your life? What kind of books did you read back then? What do you read now? What’s your favourite genre of books?

Books were pretty much it during school and college. My school had these huge sports grounds, along with a pretty large selection of sports to choose from. We had an hour when everyone would be out on the grounds. I think I used to be the only one to sneak off to the school library.

During school and college, I read a lot more than I do now. Thrillers, courtroom dramas, horror, westerns, how-tos, romance, magic realism, literary classics, etc. Definitely more of fiction though, and very rarely, the odd non-fiction. Favourite genre? I think I’ll have to say thrillers. Sure I’ll sneak in a bit of Psychology of Money or Predictably Irrational occasionally, but give me a good crime thriller any day, be it a Lee Child or a Jo Nesbø.

What are the three most remarkable books you’ve read in recent years?

To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee has been an all-time favourite. I just love the characters, especially Scout, and the book never failed to cheer me up. Recently, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was an absolutely fabulous read, and even more recently, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, which is brilliant in its analysis behind decision making.

What’s your take on Indian authors and their writing?

I haven’t read too many Indian authors. My opinion, based on a very small subset, would be that the storylines seem to be getting more interesting, providing a different take on subjects, but the writing might still be evolving. A rather promising phenomenon was the Indian comics scene some time back, but that seems to have died out. Notably, the number of illustrated books for children by Indian authors seem to be on the rise, and these are a visual feast.

Do you do most of your book buying online? Or does Goa have any bookshops that you visit regularly?

Yes, these days, most of my book buying is done online. Goa does have its share of bookshops including the likes of Crosswords as well as the more eclectic Literati, but I rarely venture into any of them. While I love the idea of bookshops continuing to exist, I doubt they will. The iconic Strand Book Stall in Mumbai shut down a few years back, and the Crossword chain has been making losses. Bookshops, the world over too seem to be dwindling.

Do you think young people these days spend too much time on their smartphones, watching YouTube videos, and too little time reading books? Do you think books – and the reading habit – will survive YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime and a billion OTT channels that are cheap and readily available in India these days?

Video as a format is definitely more arresting, and the short form video format even more so. Our brains are naturally wired to be drawn more towards video than text. As a form of consumption, video is more passive, requiring less effort than text. And for a generation born with very easy access to video content, it is likely to be the content format consumed the most. Books, on the other hand require a much deeper involvement, since while you are reading, you are actively imagining the scenario in your mind. It remains to be seen what would happen if/when virtual reality/augmented reality becomes mainstream.

Will books survive? I hope they will. The form may change, for instance physical books may give way to books in the electronic format, but I don’t think books are likely to become extinct. There are some subjects and topics which are best expressed in the written format. Also, given the increase in the number of new authors, news of its demise would be greatly exaggerated.

What’s your take on the Kindle?

I quite like the Kindle. Nothing can replicate the feel of a book, and the satisfaction of turning a page well read, but the Kindle, for me, comes a close second. Personally, I find reading on the Kindle more convenient, simply due to the better defined characters. The highlight of the Kindle, is that it serves only one purpose and that is to read a book which minimises distractions. Reading on a Kindle app on, say a smartphone, does not replicate the same experience for me. And if Kindle deviates from that singular purpose, it is likely to be the start of its demise.

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