Corrections and clarifications: The judge clarified on Thursday that he knew Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace was a classic, PTI reported. He said he had merely sought a clarification while reading out the list of books seized from accused Maoist Vernon Gonsalves. A lawyer told the judge that the book in question was actually War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists by Biswajit Roy.
On August 28, 2019, a true red letter day, the Bombay High Court asked academic Vernon Gonsalves, currently under trial as an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, why he had a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace at home.
“War and Peace is about a war in another country,” Justice Sarang Kotwal said. “Why were you having...[it] at home? You will have to explain this to the court.”
If possessing a copy of War and Peace indeed requires explanation in a court of law, which are the other books whose owners might meet the same fate? Here are six suggestions. Add your own using the Comments tool.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace is about a war in another country... why were you having...[it] at home?
“Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don’t tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist – I really believe he is Antichrist – I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my ‘faithful slave,’ as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you – sit down and tell me all the news.”
It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pávlovna Schérer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Márya Fëdorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasíli Kurágin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her reception. Anna Pávlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in St Petersburg, used only by the elite.— Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
Which other books should we not be reading?
The Trial, Franz Kafka
The Trial is about a trial not in this court... why were you having...[it] at home?
Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K, he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested. Every day at eight in the morning he was brought his breakfast by Mrs Grubach’s cook – Mrs Grubach was his landlady – but today she didn’t come. That had never happened before. K. waited a little while, looked from his pillow at the old woman who lived opposite and who was watching him with an inquisitiveness quite unusual for her, and finally, both hungry and disconcerted, rang the bell. There was immediately a knock at the door and a man entered. He had never seen the man in this house before. He was slim but firmly built, his clothes were black and close-fitting, with many folds and pockets, buckles and buttons and a belt, all of which gave the impression of being very practical but without making it very clear what they were actually for. “Who are you?” asked K, sitting half upright in his bed. The man, however, ignored the question as if his arrival simply had to be accepted, and merely replied, “You rang?” “Anna should have brought me my breakfast,” said K. He tried to work out who the man actually was, first in silence, just through observation and by thinking about it, but the man didn’t stay still to be looked at for very long. Instead he went over to the door, opened it slightly, and said to someone who was clearly standing immediately behind it, “He wants Anna to bring him his breakfast.” There was a little laughter in the neighbouring room, it was not clear from the sound of it whether there were several people laughing.— Translated by David Wyllie
Arms And The Man, George Bernard Shaw
Arms And The Man is about soldiers in another part of the world... why were you having...[it] at home?
Night. A lady’s bedchamber in Bulgaria, in a small town near the Dragoman Pass. It is late in November in the year 1885, and through an open window with a little balcony on the left can be seen a peak of the Balkans, wonderfully white and beautiful in the starlit snow. The interior of the room is not like anything to be seen in the east of Europe. It is half rich Bulgarian, half cheap Viennese. The counterpane and hangings of the bed, the window curtains, the little carpet, and all the ornamental textile fabrics in the room are oriental and gorgeous: the paper on the walls is occidental and paltry. Above the head of the bed, which stands against a little wall cutting off the right hand corner of the room diagonally, is a painted wooden shrine, blue and gold, with an ivory image of Christ, and a light hanging before it in a pierced metal ball suspended by three chains. On the left, further forward, is an ottoman. The washstand, against the wall on the left, consists of an enamelled iron basin with a pail beneath it in a painted metal frame, and a single towel on the rail at the side. A chair near it is Austrian bent wood, with cane seat. The dressing table, between the bed and the window, is an ordinary pine table, covered with a cloth of many colours, but with an expensive toilet mirror on it. The door is on the right; and there is a chest of drawers between the door and the bed. This chest of drawers is also covered by a variegated native cloth, and on it there is a pile of paper backed novels, a box of chocolate creams, and a miniature easel, on which is a large photograph of an extremely handsome officer, whose lofty bearing and magnetic glance can be felt even from the portrait. The room is lighted by a candle on the chest of drawers, and another on the dressing table, with a box of matches beside it.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is about fundamentalism in a neighbouring country... why were you having...[it] at home?”
Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.
How did I know you were American? No, not by the colour of your skin; we have a range of complexions in this country, and yours occurs often among the people of our northwest frontier. Nor was it your dress that gave you away; a European tourist could as easily have purchased in Des Moines your suit, with its single vent, and your button-down shirt. True, your hair, short-cropped, and your expansive chest – the chest, I would say, of a man who bench-presses regularly, and maxes out well above two-twenty-five – are typical of a certain type of American; but then again, sportsmen and soldiers of all nationalities tend to look alike. Instead, it was your bearing that allowed me to identify you, and I do not mean that as an insult, for I see your face has hardened, but merely as an observation.
Come, tell me, what were you looking for? Surely, at this time of day, only one thing could have brought you to the district of Old Anarkali – named, as you may be aware, after a courtesan immured for loving a prince – and that is the quest for the perfect cup of tea. Have I guessed correctly? Then allow me, sir, to suggest my favourite among these many establishments. Yes, this is the one. Its metal chairs areno better upholstered, its wooden tables are equally rough, and it is, like the others, open to the sky. But the quality of its tea, I assure you, is unparalleled.
How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position, Tabish Khair
“We do not even know what How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position is about, but it sounds deeply suspicious... why were you having...[it] at home?”
Always begin in medias res, said the only girl I ever fucked who had an MFA in writing (from an American University). At the moment she gave me that bit of advice about writing, we were almost in the middle of something else and consequently the rest of her advice was cut short or has since slipped my memory.
Having set myself the task of proving a full account of the events that have exercised considerable media attention in Denmark in recent months and that involved me, though not mentioned by name, I now wish I had more attention to her words and less attention to her. This, however, was difficult.
But whatever she or her MFA professors might have said, I am certain this account starts one winter morning on Kastelvej, which is a desolate suburban street off the main road leading from Århus to Randers, where I sat behind the steering wheel of a parked Hyundai i10, engine running for warmth, and tried desperately to jerk off into a plastic container, with a label bearing the name and social security number of my wife. This was a little over two years ago.
Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram Chandra
“Is Red Earth and Pouring Rain about Naxals in the monsoon?... why were you having...[it] at home?”
The day before Abhay shot the white-faced mordcey, he awoke to find himself bathed in sweat, a headache already cutting its way into his skull in a razor-thin line across the middle of his forehead. He lay staring at the slowly revolving ceiling fan that picked up dust with each revolution through the hot air, adding another layer to the black stains along the edges of its blades. Much later, he rose from the bed and stumbled to the door, rubbing his face with the flat of his palms. As he looked out at the sunlit courtyard with the slightly dazed eyes of those who go away laughingly on journeys and return only to find themselves coming home from exile, his mother swayed across the red bricks, carrying a load of freshly washed clothes on one hip, and vanished into the stairway leading up to the roof. In a room diagonally across the courtyard from where Abhay stood, his father’s ancient typewriter beat out its eternal thik-thik, creating yet another urgent missive to a national newspaper about the state of democracy in India. A single crow cawed incessantly. Abhay forced himself out into the white, blinding square of heat, feeling the sun sear across the back of his neck, and hurried across it to the damp darkness of the bathroom. He stripped off his clothes and stood under the rusted shower head, twisting at knobs, waiting expectantly. A deep, subterranean gurgle shook the. pipes, the shower head spat out a few tepid drops, and then there was silence.
“Abhay, is that you? The water stops at ten. Come and eat.”
When he emerged from the bathroom, having splashed water over his arms and his face from a bucket, his mother had breakfast laid out on the table next to the kitchen door, and his father was peering at an opened newspaper through steel-rimmed bifocals.
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Crime and Punishment is about crime and punishment of a different kind... why were you having...[it] at home?”
On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K bridge.
He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase. His garret was under the roof of a high, five-storied house and was more like a cupboard than a room. The landlady who provided him with garret, dinners, and attendance, lived on the floor below, and every time he went out he was obliged to pass her kitchen, the door of which invariably stood open. And each time he passed, the young man had a sick, frightened feeling, which made him scowl and feel ashamed. He was hopelessly in debt to his landlady, and was afraid of meeting her.
This was not because he was cowardly and abject, quite the contrary; but for some time past he had been in an overstrained irritable condition, verging on hypochondria. He had become so completely absorbed in himself, and isolated from his fellows that he dreaded meeting, not only his landlady, but anyone at all. He was crushed by poverty, but the anxieties of his position had of late ceased to weigh upon him. He had given up attending to matters of practical importance; he had lost all desire to do so. Nothing that any landlady could do had a real terror for him. But to be stopped on the stairs, to be forced to listen to her trivial, irrelevant gossip, to pestering demands for payment, threats and complaints, and to rack his brains for excuses, to prevaricate, to lie – no, rather than that, he would creep down the stairs like a cat and slip out unseen.
This evening, however, on coming out into the street, he became acutely aware of his fears.— Translated by Constance Garnett
Please add titles to this “questionable” booklist using the Comments tool.