Years ago, when I was a young lad with the first stirrings of facial hair, I had made it my life’s mission to woo and win the heart of one Priya Padmanabhan. Priya, it was rumored, liked books. This boded exceedingly well for me and when I had mustered sufficient courage to start a conversation, I veered the topic to books. At first she was ecstatic that I was a ‘reader’. I say at first because in a short while, upon listening to my tastes (which I always thought eclectic) her beautiful nose gave an imperceptible twitch and inched a little higher. “Pah, twiddle, piffle and prat you read. I couldn’t be paid to read this kind of droll trash”. I was sweating by then, and my heart was already broken. “At least you don’t read Asimov” she said, patted my head in a way remonstrative of showing affection to a lost canine and moved off, her nose still twitching.
This encounter left a deep impression on my heart and in my mind and hence as I read all that I could lay my grubby hands upon, it was never an Asimov. I was intrigued and tempted many a time and would furtively gaze at stacks of ‘Foundation series’ but Priya’s perfect nose would vividly flash by my eyes and I would go back to glancing at other age-inappropriate novels.
Flash forward five years. I was to be stuck on a long journey and in my haste, I picked up a couple of novels from my grandfather’s shelf not noticing what I was carrying. Imagine my consternation when I found myself with two books of the foundation series. With a resigned air I started reading; after all if I read trash anyway this wouldn’t make a difference. And that was perhaps the start of my love affair with the Asimov world; I was hooked within a few chapters of the book. The next few days passed by in a blur of reading all the Asimov’s I could find, and did I find them! The aforementioned grandfather’s book shelf carried neatly arranged volumes of Asimov’s work, his short stories, his essays and I devoured them all missing buses and trains, walking into ditches and abruptly finding myself 20 miles away from where I wanted to go.
I read the Foundation series somewhat in a crooked order and then realized there was a correct order to the books so I re read them. The brilliance lies in the fact that the three main books were written in a series, then a couple were sequels and two more were prequels. A nifty seven pack of novels with a flawless timeline. The Foundation series picked up where the Empire series left off, and there is a beautiful rounding off to the series, with a connection to robots thrown in. This as I was to discover as central to Asimov’s work. Whatever he wrote neatly tied up to his other series. There are books which stand alone, unencumbered by his fictional set-ups, yet there is a clear sign of possible seamless integration.
A theme central to his work is the oneness of life. Not a oneness merely encompassing all humans, but a oneness that transcends all barriers of Linnaean classification, one that includes rocks, trees and rainfall. There are then his books on the human body, very detailed yet lucid enough for intrepid biologists. There are short stories on love, loss and sex. In any case anyone accuses him of sexism (which in fact has happened), there are busty female robots too and one very determined female robot, Dors Venabili. There is a very beautiful and openly sexy Blissenobiarella, an astoundingly intelligent Marlene, a villainous Harla Branno, a prostitute cum spy Manella Dubanqua, the prim and proper Susan Calvin, a courageous Bayta Darrell and a romantic yet very witty Arkady Darrell. No discussion on Asimov can be complete without mentioning his three laws of robotics and those heroes among robots, R Daneel Olivaw and R Giskard Reventlov. Then there is Hari Seldon (widely believed to be his alter-ego), the science of psychohistory and a million other concepts that speak volumes of his general scientific understanding.
Last week I bumped into Priya at a railway station. I was reading and didn’t watch my step, literally colliding against her perfect nose; and after a second of awkwardness we spoke. All was going well, she even flashed those pearly whites at me when she noticed the Asimov dangling by the edge of my fingertips. She scowled magnificently and walked away in a huff. It took me all these years of avoiding Asimov and a few months of embracing them to realize what a bumbling idiot of gigantic proportions she was. Very pretty nose though.