On Reading

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” — Jorge Luis Borges | Image Source: Steve McCurry’s blog

My very first book

Funnily enough, the first book I ever read wasn’t one I read at all until I was almost a teenager. Sunny Bunny Comes Home was a favourite in the Kirpalani household; and Mom and Dad (mostly Dad) would read it out to me every night before bed. “It was the third rainy day in a row, and Marcia was running out of things to do…” he would begin, and my excitement levels would rise with each word. Though they weren’t great readers themselves, my parents had unwittingly passed on the love for books to their wide-eyed, impressionable little girl.

I was hooked from the outset––and from a listener, I quickly progressed into a reader. When Daddy was a Little Boy by Alexander Raskin was next. For the longest time I actually believed these were stories about my own dad’s boyhood. The author’s name emblazoned across the cover be damned; to my 5 year-old mind, these were all tales involving my Papa. I also conveniently ignored the fact that the stories were about a mischievous little Russian boy; who cared if my Dad had never even set foot in Moscow?

Matilda, Black Beauty, The Naughtiest Girl books, Famous Five, Secret Seven, The Babysitters’ Club––I devoured them all in hungry pagefuls. And then came the book that defined the childhood of almost everyone in my generation today––Harry Potter. Rowling’s books were an entire generation simultaneously stepping into a parallel universe; and quickly became my refuge in an otherwise painful and troubled pre-teen and early teenage time of life. While my parents snarled nasties and screamed at each other in the living room, I escaped from the horrors of my happy childhood crumbling before my very eyes by shutting myself tightly in my room, music cranked up to max; inevitably with a book in hand.

The more they fought, the more I read. Once again, my parents had an undeniable role to play in my journey as a reader.

My room back home has a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. In it, I keep all the books I ever bought. If you’re a voracious reader like me, you may have the affliction I’ve been cursed(blessed) with ever since I was little. I call it “book acquisition syndrome”. I’m sometimes ashamed to admit, but I buy more than I read. Always in the hope that I’ll come back to the unread book, someday…

“To Read is to Fly”

Steve McCurry was one of the earliest photographers I ever stumbled upon; mystically enough because of his blog post titled To Read is to Fly. Picture after picture of the most beautiful people, each absorbed in a parallel world of their own. He made reading look bloody amazing, and I always wondered why some of the people around me didn’t do more of it. Because I, on the other hand, had my nose firmly stuck in any book I could lay my hands on.

I was one of those kids that actually got excited to go to the library every weekend. I made my Mom buy me a membership to the local library; and my childhood room was always littered with an assorted mix of things I was reading––I was just as comfortable picking up an Archie comic as I was plunging into the magical realist worlds conjured by Salman Rushdie. In fact, I could never read just one book at a time; I’ve always had at least 3 or 4 books on my bedside table, choosing them at different points of time in the day, depending on my mood. There was always one “light” book––a comedy, a romance, or some other seemingly easily digestible piece of writing–– sometimes a “non-fiction” book (though I rarely turn to them for any sort of comfort or wisdom), a quote-unquote spiritual book, and a familiar, pre-loved book.

The last one is an absolute necessity; the oxygen to my reader’s lungs.

I always find it comforting to fall back on a book that I’ve read, and loved, before.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to attract friends who’ve also been readers. Many of them have brought a book into my life at just the right points in time.

I was introduced to the works of Rumi at a time when my heart was broken beyond the notion of ever being repaired.

Jeeves waltzed into my life when I really needed to laugh––in order to keep sane while the world was forcing my tendency towards insanity.

The Night Circus left an indelible mark on my psyche as a reader; while Jonathan Livingston Seagull hit me with his simplistic profundity.

Voltaire’s Candide and Henry James’ The Figure in the Carpet were both sources of comfort at a time when I was practically bed-ridden.

Mariane Satrapi’s Persepolis was my first graphic novel; and Ben Elton’s Gasping was the first play I read aloud at a drop-in play-reading session at the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore.

Would these books have made it to my (astoundingly long and ever-increasing) to-read list if they hadn’t been recommended highly or presented to me? Possibly not. Would my bookshelf have been considerably poorer if not for them? Most certainly yes.

And then there were the books I gleefully introduced into my friends’ lives. I’ve lost count of the number of people to whom I’ve gifted a copy of Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet ; I’m sure the multitude I’ve evangelically recommended it to has been in the several hundreds, at the very least. Shantaram is another one of my favourites that I’ve made those closest to me read––and been thanked, for doing so. Murakami was an author I introduced to one of my best friends; and she’s overtaken me in her love for his bizarro style by reading almost all his books (before me!).

Clearly, reading is a gift we pass onto those we love the most.

And when I see a person reading a book I’ve loved, I’m automatically more attracted to them. It’s literally like the book is giving the person its stamp of approval––and one that usually means more to me than its reverse. One of the many fantasies about how I’ll meet the (next) love of my life involves us reaching for the same book, at the same instant, at our (mutual) favourite bookshop/library.

Our hands will brush against one another, our eyes will meet––a smile will be exchanged, followed by a shy, nervous laugh; and the next thing we know, we’ll be seated across from each other at said bookshop/library’s cafe, sipping our caramel latte’s (yes, he will be a caramel latte lover too!) and that, kids, is how I met your father…

Find someone who looks at you the way this man looks at his book | Image Source: Steve McCurry’s blog

Reading is a solitary act that, paradoxically enough, brings us together. I’d love to hear about some of your favourite books or earliest or fondest memories of reading.

Give us a clap, and a comment with your favourites, to boot. Go on, you know you really want to…