This piece was published in my college's annual magazine in 2012 (yep, that same year I served as the Student Editor. How awesome were those days! ^_^)
They stood in a colourful row, some with gleaming titles shining in the suffused light in the room, some with dark covers, but equally loved, adored and well-maintained. The shorter shelf held varying combinations and designs in the way I had stacked them; after all space was sparse and the books too many. For years I had dreamt of owning a huge room with wall to wall bookshelves stacked with volumes of a variety of books. This one was just 1/20th of the dream fulfilled and I was proud at the achievement.
Looking back, I saw myself as a tiny kid fascinated by all the colors and beautiful characters smiling out of story books I got from Mom. She was a teacher in the kindergarten wing of a public school and regularly brought those treats for me. I would pore over the books and force myself into trying to understand the written words. I sometimes wonder I could have easily been an autodidact, a self-read person, though I know that could never have happened. My parents not sending me to school, I mean. I knew all about Cinderella, Snow White and Ariel long before they started calling them ‘Disney princesses’ and when kids in my class referred to them as cartoon characters. I loved the cartoons too, but for reasons I still cannot decipher. It gave a weird kind of satisfaction, knowing I’ve read about them before and a personal sense of victory that I knew more than the ignorant kids! Lion King, Panchtantra stories, Akbar and Birbal, The Cat in the Hat, 101 Dalmitions were my friends and it didn’t seem fair that kids who only loved to play all the time would know about them too, with all those funny movies made about them; movies that sometimes frustrated me, for not keeping in sync with the books and tweaking the stories to suit fickle-minded audiences, like the Harry Potter series. They’re good movies, but not good enough! They’re not like the books and I develop a dislike to the people who say it’s a bore when they don’t even read the books!
All through the years, I lived in stories- about little orphans or wizards, about pixies or nymphs, about people who found magical places or people who found magic in their own selves. The written word fascinated me and it wasn’t long before I looked forward to the library time in school. While students gossiped behind magazines, I took out books carefully by their spines and read through them. Charles Dickens became a favourite, followed by other classics that swept me through their vivid descriptions of beautiful places and equally enchanting stories. Mark Twain, Charlotte Bronte, F.H. Burnett continued to inspire me to read more classics and Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene sparked my interest in reading mystery. But I was a picky bookworm. I didn’t like books with violence, with sad endings or with gruesome stories. I still don’t.
|That's one shelf I have! 8||
Always being a bookworm came with its share of troubles. I would frustrate kids when I openly preferred books over them, hurting their blown up ego. I didn’t like to socialize and preferred to be alone. I would lose thread of the chats because my mind sub-consciously drifted to the story that was in a crucial stage and I didn’t know what would happen, since I hadn’t read the whole of it. But it gave me much more than I had lost, if I had lost anything, that is. I had a place where I could immerse myself in when I wanted to get away from the boring life and its troubles, emerging a happier person. I knew better than my peers and didn’t need to study for the English subject, knowing I would do well. I wasn’t a victim of embarrassment that many people faced because of their big mouths. I knew things and that gave me a wicked sense of pleasure. I was superior.
If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s the fact that Indian system of education is hopeless, especially the schools. As higher studies took a toll, I was gently reminded by concerned parents and ridicule-loving-relatives that novels and ‘other’ books weren’t important. Though I was grateful that they’ve always encouraged my habit of reading, learning from teachers that it’s a rare quality, I felt betrayed when my time with those books was cut short as ‘important-exams-that-would-decide-my-future’ came into being. Seasons changed and soon it were whole months before I read those ‘other’ books; but my love for them remained steadfast as I graduated school into college.
I was free, at least metaphorically. I regained my lost time by reading volumes of books that interested me. I spent my pocket money on them, while my peers thought it’s a waste but I didn’t care. Books had been my saviour in all kinds of situations possible and I loved them. Soon I discovered something about myself- that I liked collecting books, a fact evident since I had refused to give away a single book, including the magazines collected over the years. I had graduated to harder-to-uncover mysteries, chick-lit and Young Adult genres. I visited the annual Book Fair in Delhi every year and asked for specific books on birthdays. I got them all and I’ve always been happy and grateful about it.
The only thing that’s kept me sad about all of it is the pathetically small number of people with the same interest.
I have always got a group of friends who weren’t interested in books,
or at least not as much as I have been. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I’ve
always felt gloomy at the dearth of like-minded people. This is no longer true! I mean, yes, the number is a handful but ever since I have been blogging about books and reviewing, I have found friends who share this fascination. And it has been exceedingly amazing! I always felt the need to have at
least one person who would understand why I like the unique smell of paperbacks
or would argue why I oppose the idea of e-books. I feel depressed seeing kids
glued to their iPads, some saying they like to read virtual versions of the
traditional stories, some tapping away at some App that’s supposed to make
“Alice” of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ small enough to get through the door. Maybe
they’re right in their own context. Maybe I’m too ‘traditional’ to accept the
It was then that I realized that the cold from the marble floor was getting harder to bear. I let my hand hover over the colourful row, deciding which one to pick for the night. I chose a gleaming hardcover, pulled off its dust jacket and curled myself into the bed with the book.