Reading is like breathing for P. Govinda Pillai; while the reader in him savours every new book like a burst of fresh air, the writer in him is able to exude the same passionate intensity and freshness to the reader.
For PG, any book is an occasion to remember and remember; each idea triggers in him the memory of another, and in the process of review, he remembers to sketch their historical and socio-political contexts. This breathtaking ability to link ideas – literary or scientific, philosophical or political – is what makes this anthology, PG-yude Vayanalokam, a great journey that spans all areas of human life and knowledge.
Here, PG once again proves himself to be an ideal ‘readers’ reader’ , a bibliophile who patiently and diligently ploughs through tomes of wisdom and insight and takes the reader through an exciting and adventurous journey through the world of ideas, all the while unashamedly sharing the pleasures and thrills of reading. So this is not only a book on books but also a book on the very act of reading.
The critical reviews relate to various aspects of intellectual history that focus mainly on history and historians of science, cultural politics, and political history. What makes the reader’s journey with PG exciting is his ability to stride various worlds, and to make scintillating connections between apparently disparate disciplines, distinct eras, different personalities and distant incidents.
Here, Western intellectuals rub shoulders with the hitherto marginalised and ‘regionalised’ thinkers from the East and the Middle East; here the history and politics of Kerala intersect with that of India and the world. Writers on philosophy and history of science from all over the world like J.D.Bernal, Stewart Richard, Dick Teresi, Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Allaby, George Geevarghese, Peter Watson, Jagjit Singh, M.S. Randhhava mix and engage with historians of culture and literature like D.D. Kosambi, Muhammed Maideen, Dwijendra Narayan Jha, C.K. Raju, M.R. Raghava Warier, Rajan Gurukkal, Fr Ayirukkuzhy, and biographers and writers like P.K. Parameswaran Nair, Chinthavila Murali, Pirappancode Murali and N.V.P. Unithiri, and Marxist philosophers and critics like Christopher Caldwell, E.M.S. Nambudiripad and Terry Eagleton.
Although reviews on works of literature and arts are rare in this anthology, the ones that make their appearance are filled with rare insights and illuminating summaries: like the one on the Complete Works of Moinkutty Vaidyar, the doyen of mapilla songs, the Koran translation by Sheikh Sainudeen Maqdum, the autobiography of Nitya Chaitanya Yati, and the critical writings on Shakespeare, Ritwik Ghatak, and film theorist Gaston Roberge.
Essentially a historian of ideas, PG’s admiration for writers like Will Durant, J.D. Bernal, Leszek Kolakowski etc is evident in his reviews; this book itself begins with his attempt to answer the question ‘Which is my favourite book?’ followed by a perceptive review of Will Durant’s 11-volume magum opus The Story of Civilisation.
In this review, even while admiring Durant’s encyclopaedic knowledge and his all consuming commitment to the task at hand, PG doesn’t hesitate to question its euro-centric approach despite the book’s declared efforts to overcome it.
The architecture of Marxist materialist philosophy that structures PG’s thought gives the reader a solid framework that connects lines of thought followed by different writers and books into a complex yet cogent web of ideas.
Another distinctive quality of PG’s writings is the ease and facility with which he juggles with different epistemic worlds and worldviews: materialist and idealistic, oriental and occidental, modern and ancient, local and global. He is at home with the history, politics and philosophy, both of India and the West, various branches of science as well as literature, arts and culture, with textual as well as empirical sources of knowledge.
This book is the work of an incurable bibliophile, whose passion for books and ideas is contaminative, provoking, pushing and coaxing the reader further and deeper into joys and thrills of reading.