Return to Books
We’re heading for Venus and still, we stand strong!
I don’t remember the name of the first book I read but I clearly remember how it felt.
I was six years old and in the first standard at a school called New Activity in Mumbai. It was a primary school that taught students from kindergarten till the 3rd standard.
That year, our school principal decided to create a little in-house library and check out weekly books to students.
I remember looking eagerly at a stack of about thirty books on the teacher’s dark brown wooden table when she called me.
“You can take whichever book you like,“ the teacher said, encouragingly.
I was too little to know what I wanted to read, so I picked up the book which looked different from the rest. In printing terminology, while the other books were portrait shaped, this one was landscape shaped.
I picked it up and felt the hard cover of the book. It was solid. It was stable. Most importantly, it wasn’t intimidating. There was an image of a cute, friendly, innocent bear on the cover and it was smiling at me. I smiled back.
“Can I take this book, ma’am?“ I asked the teacher.
“Sure dear,“ she smiled and wrote my name on a card, that she pulled out from the book.
“Bring it back next Monday after reading it so I can give you another book.“
“Yes, thank you.“
“Next…“ she announced as I returned to my desk.
Once seated, the first thing I did was to smell the book. I had this strange habit of smelling everything as a kid. The book had a distinct smell. It smelled different from the paperbacks we come across nowadays. A protective film on the hard-cover and its glazed pages gave it a pleasant and inviting fairy-tale kind of smell.
I opened the book and felt the smooth glazed pages between my little fingers. There were twenty-five of them and it looked like each page contained something fun and new. Every page had a similar design. The left half contained an image and the right half contained text. The images were of the bear, the forest where it stayed, and its friends: a squirrel, a giraffe, and a tortoise. And the text was large. It called out to me as if saying, “Come little one, read me.” I started reading the book right away. I wanted to know more about the bear and his friends.
That was the first step on my journey into the world of books.
Over the years, even though I’ve experimented with different genres and always took delight in finding something new and interesting, I’ve consistently been drawn to three types of books. The first is about simple, authentic people who find themselves at odds in a world that values outer appearance and dogma. The second type is travel tales — books that speak of distant places and unknown people. And the final type, a little different in comparison, is Indian Mythology with larger-than-life kings, queens, gods, goddesses, and demons.
The first connects me to the real world, the second — to the world I don’t yet know about, and the third — to my imagination. All connect me to my soul.
Good books have always felt like time well spent.
However, a career in software development tore me apart from this beloved interest of mine.
As a young eager programmer in the early 2000s, I was constantly bombarded with new technologies, and in my naivete, I thought it was imperative to keep up with each and everything in my field if I wanted to be true to my work. The common slogan was: “If you want to be a successful Java developer, you must eat Java, drink Java, and sleep Java.”
As a result, all of my time and brainpower were taken up by coding and reading about software. At the end of the day, my eyes were so tired from spending all that time in front of the computer screen that I had neither the desire nor the energy to read anything else.
Somehow, in being true to my work, I had unwittingly become untrue to myself. I did not realize it for a long time even though I had started to feel a sense of discomfort a few years into my work life. The voice of discomfort was too soft. It was drowned out by the marketing buzz and speed at which high-tech was spitting things out. I realized something was wrong only when that little sense of discomfort resulted in a complete burnout and breakdown.
Eventually, realizing that it didn’t make sense waking up every morning hating the day that awaited me, one day in September 2020, I had a heart-to-heart talk with the CEO of the company where I worked. He understood how I felt and asked me if I could complete a few tasks that were important to the customer and might take a little beyond the mandatory one-month notice that I had planned on mailing that evening. I agreed to complete all the tasks that he mentioned.
November 13, which was also a Friday — making it “Friday the 13th”, was my last of work as a software engineer. It was the day I finally broke up my twenty-year relationship with software engineering to become a full-time writer. Why I chose writing is a story for another day :-)
On the morning of November 14th, I woke up feeling authentically happy after a very long time. I sat in my 10th-floor apartment’s balcony with a cup of tea in my hands and looked at the distant mountains feeling a sense of inner peace and happiness. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my back.
Six months after that, I’m honing my skills, writing, and consistently showing up to produce and sharpen my craft. I haven’t started earning, yet, but I wake up in the morning looking forward to the day. Looking forward to my work. To learning something that I care about. To doing something that really gives me joy. I’m no longer just wading through the week, waiting for the weekend.
I’m enjoying the process of reacquainting myself with reading and writing and becoming a self-published author. I also look forward to spending more time in nature and indulge a bit in carefree travel, with an interesting book to read and my writing notebook by my side.
It feels like traveling and books — whether it be reading or writing — are two sides of the same coin. The first is an outer journey and the second, an inner one. Nevertheless, ultimately they both bring me back to myself.
I published my first long-form story — a travelogue of a 1000 Km solo drive from Pune to Tiruvannamalai — a few weeks back. You can read it for free here: https://blessingsofarunachala.blogspot.com/
I can’t help but fold my hands in gratitude. For what could be better than work that brings me back to myself and helps me express my truth?