Today is April 23, 2020, and the world is under lockdown to contain the spread of Corona Virus. Today is also the World Book Day.
The entertainment zones are closed. The watering holes have gone dry. The weekend trips cannot be undertaken. The sporting events have been suspended. The places of worship are soulless. The TV Serials and Web Series have no new content to offer. Many of the mobile games cannot be played for fear of action by the cops, and some of them are getting tedious. The memes on Corona Virus only remind us that we have been consigned to our homes by a virus.
We the book worms/book nerds/ book lovers/ bookaholics are finally ruling the world. We can travel to Paris. We can feel high without having a drink. We can read the original version of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. We know what happens when viruses capture the world thanks to science fiction. We can go the Drones Club. We have retained our freedom, imagination, and not fluttered by staying indoors. We are the envy of all those friends and family who ridiculed us for being book aficionados, and never cultivated a habit of reading. We can go on a train journey unravelling murder mysteries. Today, they are left only to watch the Corona ticker, and crib about its impact.
I too would have been in the unfortunate lot but for my father drilling the need to read books. My cousins used to desist visiting my home because my father used to inexorably advise them to read books. However, we had to listen to him, and slowly but surely I took interest in reading books. My father was not a scholar but knew that books can ennoble lives. He used to always say, when you start earning, buy one good book a month and read it, you will be able to deal with life in a better way. It took me nearly a decade and a half of working life to realise this irrefragable truth.
With his limited means, he used to buy me some books. There used to be a friendly shopkeeper who used to lend us new comics at Rs.1 per day. The books used to come on Friday night, and should be sold the next day morning. My father used to get the books from him, and it was my responsibility to read it by next morning without crumbling the pages. This was an unintentional introduction to speed reading.
Once in a month, on Sundays, we used to visit the bookstores in MG Road. Those days books never came wrapped in plastic, and book shop owners were always kind enough to let people read books in their shops without buying them. When my father had some money, he used to buy a book or two. After the knowledge trip, our trip back home was conducted on two legs, because that was the only way the home finances could be managed. Bangalore still had all the habiliments of a garden city, and thus a six kilometre walk on a Sunday afternoon did not break a sweat. Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Wisdom, Aesop Tales, formed the staple diet. The bigger books were mostly about freedom fighters.
Later I joined the City Central Library. I was around 12 years at that time, and was allowed to go to the library alone. There I read about Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, Discoveries, Inventions, Cricket History, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Gulliver Travels etc. After I joined college, with my first scholarship amount, I was allowed to join the British Library. One book, I profusely remember having read there was a science fiction book, whose name I don’t remember. In that book carnivorous plants take over the world, and human beings are consigned to their homes. During college days, I was an eager participant in debates, and as usual not having much knowledge on the subject, I used humour to ensure that I could speak for a couple of minutes on the topic. My English Lecturer had suggested me to read PG Wodehouse to sharpen the quality of humour in my speeches. I was more interested in making a career in commerce than paying heed to his words, except read a few pages of a collection of short stories suggested by him.
After finishing my studies, I landed up a stable job, and a good income. I forgot reading books, and better part of my spare time was spent in travelling to and from work. On weekends, if I was not required to go to office, I used to roam, watch movies, and eat in fancy restaurants. After I got married, I used to read an odd book or two but nothing serious.
The good advices given by our parents and teachers, and ignored by us have a strange way of coming back to haunt us. In 2008, I stuck a psychological roadblock, and had to seek medical attention. It was during one of the sessions, my therapist suggested I should cultivate hobbies like reading books. He suggested I should read someone humorous like PG Wodehouse. There I was, having been given both these advices for free, now being told the same, after a heavy dosage of drugs, and a sizeable amount of fee.
I tried to be wise, and again took a membership of British Library. It has a sizeable number of PG Wodehouse titles. Though I was reading the books, but an attachment to them was never there. It is at this point, I purchased `White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga. It is then when I realised what difference it makes to pay and buy a book. When you buy a book, you are more likely to read it. You can’t call yourself a genuine book lover if you buy pirated copies. If you don’t reward the author’s effort, you can never appreciate his work. In the last 7 to 8 years, I have not purchased a single pirated copy.
It took me a lot of time to move from PG Wodehouse works, and most importantly humour to other genres. Being associated with book clubs helped in this endeavour, especially We Read Therefore We are Book Club, Bangalore, and The Book Nerds, Dehradun. The wide spectrum of well read individuals I meet in these gatherings helped me to try out other genres. During this period, I read mythology which I thought was sacrilege to do so, being an atheist. I learnt to appreciate the fact that Mahabharata was beyond religion.
During the last seven years, I have read books on travel, mythology, politics, dictators, unethical medical practices, growth of fascist organisations, science fiction, democracy, stoicism, conspiracy theories, origin of humanity, graphic novels, dystopian novels, cricket, murder mysteries, casteism, satire, self-help books, and poetry. The number of purchased but unread books is crossing the three figure mark. Kindle has helped to read more books, one it saves space, and is easy to carry.
My parting thought to you would be to start reading. If you are old, it is never too late. If you are young, you don’t have to get to late 30s to start reading. Reading is the best hobby you can cultivate. You can buy a book, put it aside for years, and one fine day pick it up to read. The book will never crib that it was ignored for so many years, but will impart all the knowledge it has. Book is the best inheritance you can leave behind to your successors. Stay safe, take care. Happy World Book Day.