By Volunteer Jay Laddha, FHI Ahmedabad
“I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.”
― Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed
Picture a guy with shabby dressing sense, endeared in a fairly conservative family, largely middle-class upbringing, indifferent about most things except Bollywood and Cricket – that was me. As a very small child, I used to imagine I was, say, Batman and picture myself as the hero of a ceased story in a peculiar altruistic, narcissistic way. I was somewhat lonely, and I think from the very start, my literary pursuits were mixed up with the feeling of being somewhat isolated and undervalued.
It is difficult even to speculate when I first started reading literature apart from scholastic academia. Yet, I reckon my first experience of reading anything describable as decent or serious was when I had found a tiny book of around 50 pages titled ‘Skill with People‘ by Les Giblin in my father’s old library collection. It was a relatively good book, considering I pounced upon a couple of Chetan Bhagat novels after that. Howsoever, impressed with my new-founded curiosity, my school friend, Ashish, suggested that I read the book ‘Be Happy Attitudes‘ by Dr. Robert Schuller from the school library. At the time, the book made a deep impression upon me, and the lapse of time has hardly served to weaken the effect. I knew I liked experimenting with words and making analogies with unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of hidden world in which I could get my own back for my ignorance in everyday life.
Nonetheless, the books gradually became my armor through and against the world and an antidote to my predicament. Rather than me being just a visceral reader, they marked – and became – masks of my time. The Kite Runner helped me survive a bad friendship during college. The classic 1984 got me through the pessimistic internship days. Robert Greene’s Mastery infused courage and revived my ambitions. While Sherlock Holmes’ novels unveiled an incredible world of mystery, Gurcharan Das’ solid trilogy enriched me with knowledge and confidence. When I speak of these books, I speak of them as colloquial friends, and I think about how they influenced me when I think about them.
Reading meant different things at different times. Sometimes it was just a leisurely activity; at other times, it inculcated a sense of wonder, introspection, and reflection. Brave New World terrified me with the idea of utopia, whereas PG Wodehouse engulfed me in surreptitious laughter. While Shantaram and Maximum City familiarized me with the closed universe of the mafia, Friedman’s The World is flat opened my imagination to the ideas of innovation and globalization. I felt the responsibility on Michael Corleone’s shoulders, embraced The White Tiger’s aloofness, and tried to understand the emotional turmoil of Waller Bridge’s fleabag. I dabbled with Jonathan Livingston while traveling to my maternal home and gluttonized Who moved my cheese at a client’s place. I devoured Agatha Christie’s realms and sought respite in Dan Brown’s world-saving thrillers. These (& other) books rendered a sort of certainty – the same old smell and discernible order to the chaos in the outside world. But when life gets rough in the big city, these vicarious narratives become a sanctuary. In the face of crisis and misery, they felt like a private restoration of time — a space of solace and recuperation, like the coolness of dew on the hanging leaf; a path to invisible purpose and a quest for unknown redemption.
Most importantly, reading books gave me the courage to reflect on complicated aspects of my life. It allowed me to escape the immediacy of trending culture, unrequited noise, fleeting community and furtively evoke an expression of hope, peace, and singularity. It became a relaxing activity to declutter thoughts and connect the dots. Transcending the ephemerality of expanding cosmos, I found a sense of calm in sharing time and space with books. Because the brutal truth is: Some of us like to get lost so that we can reclaim the joy of finding ourselves.
Of late years, I have been asked many times – Isn’t it boring to read books? – this got me into thinking. But the answer isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. I have realized reading is more a function of curiosity, and the real question we should be asking in return is: Are you curious enough?… Books have extended me the endurance to be self-seeking and also the privilege to be rueful. Even today, I feel like a tourist when I open a new book. Maybe I’ll unearth more in the coming years. After all, in my head, I’m still the hero who outgrew his history, waiting for the resurrection.