Tilism to Cosmos

This week, author and academic Osama Siddique, allows us a peek into his wide span of literary interests

Tilism to Cosmos
Why a personal library?

Because it is hard to come by the titles you want when you want them and hence you stock up whenever you find them in order to read whenever the opportunity arises and the mood strikes. Also, as a researcher there are several books that I keep going back to for some reference or which I re-read in their entirety – in any event some books are meant to be read more than once both because they deserve it and also because they provide a different experience and new pleasure every time. Further, because I find no greater solace than to be surrounded by books and/or trees. That is particularly true as the world around us descends into further obscurantism and chaos. A library is where I find both perspective and peace and to have a personal one allows me to take refuge in it whenever I want.

[quote]I have seriously contemplated shop-lifting on a few occasions earlier in my life[/quote]

To what lengths have you gone to acquire a book you wanted?

I have walked and driven unreasonable distances and waited irrational hours. I have flattered, cajoled and pleaded. I have seriously contemplated shop-lifting on a few occasions earlier in my life when affordability was an issue. I have frequently spent most of my income on books at the cost of other things, needs and caprices.

Are there books in your collection you have several editions of? Why?

Indeed I do! I collect old and/or hardback editions whenever I can find them and I believe that certain books are best enjoyed in that format. Plus I love the smell of old paper and the variations of fragrance depending on the age of the book and the nature of binding and paper used. But then I also end up getting the paperbacks as well as they are easy to carry and affordable. I also like to pick up books while traveling as they then get associated with a particular voyage and mood – especially if they are set in the place I am traveling through and/or if the writer comes from there. I confess that at times I also judge a book by its cover and pick up a new edition for its artistic merit even if I already possess the title. Some I keep buying again and again as a silent tribute to the author.


What do you currently have on your bedside table?

I normally read more than one book simultaneously. So currently I am reading the science fiction classic The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, Emperor Jahangir’s memoirs Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s magnum opus Kai Chand Thay Sar-e-Aasman and browsing through Trees of Delhi by Pradip Krishen.

The three books you’d take with you on a desert island

Ideally a three volume guide on how to survive on a desert island with detailed instructions for dummies on how to build a fire, catch something edible, and send distress signals etc, as well as recipes for cooking the meager fare that may be available in innovative and soul-lifting ways – monotonous food also kills the spirit. But on second thoughts, I would take Arabian Nights, Tilism-e-Hoshruba and The Decameron. Several reasons for this choice. Lots of pages to savor; the books present endless fantastical worlds to wander through; and, they furnish multiple stimulants for day dreaming under my palm tree on the island. In addition, they more or less cover all possible plotlines and human emotions.

An author you would like to dine with

Unfortunately, so many of them are no longer with us. The one I did dine with many years ago is Vikram Seth and he is an excellent conversationalist. I would have loved to meet Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Others I would like to dine with would be Rohinton Mistry and Michael Ondaatje.

Dr Siddique's library is spread on various shelves around his house
Dr Siddique's library is spread on various shelves around his house

Your favourite genre

My own work is in the realms of law and social sciences and hence I read a lot of non-fiction. But I have always loved all kinds of fiction as well. And I love history. So I guess the answer would be historical fiction.

A book you think is highly over-rated

That is easy. Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist.’

What kind of a reader are you? Unbroken spine, not a speck on the page, or everything underlined and lots of marginalia

Somewhere in the middle. There are old editions that I like to keep in a pristine condition. There are treatises and serious academic works that I underline and take notes in the margins. But on the whole I take very good care of my books.

A book everyone should read

Any book that can make one look at life from a perspective other than one’s own and develop empathy for life in all its forms. There are so many great books that enable one to do that. But then again if one is not willing and open-minded none of them would work. I think Cosmos by Carl Sagan is excellent for putting our remarkably puny existence into cosmic perspective. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a brilliant expose of the deceptive persuasiveness of the illogical – very relevant for our milieu. Finally, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 can be great antidotes for anyone suffering from a fascination with the idea of totalitarianism – again quite important in our context.

Osama Siddique is a legal scholar and policy reform expert. He is the author of ‘Pakistan’s Experience with Formal Law: An Alien Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Dr. Osama Siddique writes constitutional history as well as historical fiction. He also advises on legal and institutional reforms. He tweets at @DrOsamaSiddique