Everything passes. It has to. That's the beauty and tragedy of it.
I remember leafing through my first ever story book as a five year old, all wide eyed and hooked. It was love at first sight. I was on my way home from a qualifying entrance exam at boarding school that I was supposed to enroll for. My father had been trying to explain to me why I had to go to school so far from home and stay there for the major part of the year, and I was being petulant and difficult. He tried explaining how he envisioned a bright future for me, his first born and how our little town basically didn’t have the means or opportunities to help me spread my wings. The truth of the matter is I did understand his point of view, his sacrifice and the sincere light in his eyes. I just didn’t want to accept it. I just didn’t want to be so far away from home and my loved ones.
So, as a peace offering, my father decided to go out and buy me a little present. I settled in the bus waiting for my dad to head back all the while afraid that the bus might leave without him. I was ready to scream my lungs out if the driver so much as dared to move the bus an inch without my dad in it. Thankfully my anguish didn’t last that long. The sight of my dad heading back to the bus, with a bag in his hand, was a humungous relief to me. The other passengers were spared the sight of my tough devilish side after all.
He smiled as he sat beside me in the aisle seat, having given me my customary window seat to gaze out into the wonders of the world as the bus trundled by. I had lost the will to sulk. I hugged him and curiously eyed the bag in his hand, expecting some treats. That’s when he handed me my first story book – a comic book, actually. Indian kids who grew up in the 90’s are not strangers to Amar Chitra Katha’s “Tinkles”, “Chacha Choudharys”, “Champaks” and “Chandamamas” of the world. Many have been introduced to the world of books by Tintin and Asterix. The one in my hand was a Tinkle – A potpourri of stories of all kinds. Instantly, I was engrossed in a story of a princess who was turned into a raven by an evil witch who tricked her into sticking an enchanted hairpin into her long dark raven hair. I had entered a magical world.
Ever since, it has been a lifelong affair with books, mostly fiction. Anything that promises stories, catches my imagination and offers a portal to a different world or era. Every time, I travel be it by train or bus or a plane, I invariably make a beeline for the first bookstore in sight. I wander intro bookstores and leaf through old musty books on the shelves, loving the smell of the pages, wondering what wonders they held in their midst. The highlight of my boarding school days were that we had to get in line to read a book whenever someone in our class had bought a new one. The one with the most story books was automatically our bestie. Reading books together was the quickest way of making friends and ‘library period’, the height of leisure.
Libraries have held immense attraction for me all through my teenage years. Rain or shine, I would grab a book, curl up and I was sorted. Immaterial of whether it was exam time or summer holidays, the allure that books held was insurmountable (story books and novels and similar stuff, mind you – not the run of the mill text books meant to be studied!!) 😉 I would be turning pages late into the night and my mom would go hoarse asking me to switch off the light and go to bed. I would comply till she was back in bed, in her room before resuming my night-time tryst with books, making a tent under my blanket with a flashlight in hand. I think my mom finally gave up asking me to stop when she caught me sneaking a book in the waistband of my shorts every time I went to the bathroom to take a bath. I would spend hours in the bathroom, reading away to glory, blissfully unaware of my mom scolding me in the background. Even thick glasses, progressively increasing in thickness over the years couldn’t deter me. One lasik eye surgery when I turned twenty-five and I am still rocking, books forever victorious..!
The pleasure of manually hunting for books has given way to the latest, more modern and convenient ways to get my story-fix. These days, I browse books online, read reviews, get into discussions with fellow bibliophiles, borrow from online libraries or buy them outright from e-commerce sites. It has a different charm of its own and there are avenues galore. e-books are good too, tough a bit tedious and impersonal for my taste, even though the latest technology ensure readers have as close an experience to a real book, with built in sound effects that mimic the turning of a page or intelligent settings to automatically adjust to the light so that your eyes are not adversely affected or hundreds and thousands of books that can fit into your pocket, at your beck and call at all times.
The sad thing is, even with all the advantages of technology, these days I find less and less time to pursue my passion for reading. Hectic work schedules, unending domestic chores and familial commitments have taken precedence, sidelining my love for reading to an hour or two over the weekends or when I am commuting to and from my workplace. Not enough at all, when I prefer to finish a book in one sitting. I find myself longing to go back to the book at hand while I am at work, cooking or cleaning up. Sometimes, I even feel reluctant to get started with a book because I feel I might not be able to find time to read it. Or do justice to it. Because to me, a book is more than just a pastime. It is my friend, my ‘venting’ machine, my support system. It helps me through tough times, with its unconditional and unquestioning presence. Some people turn to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or yoga for sanctuary. For me, a book will do the trick, any day…
Like long-standing friendships that fade away with time and distance. You always mean to catch up and stay in touch but get caught up with something or the other that demands your time and attention. You think – tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow…