Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Reading, anyone?

I was at home for the long Onam weekend, and surrounded by my mother and sister, both voracious readers, the topic inevitably turned to reading. Both consider me a less-than serious reader, since I do read more popular fiction than either of them. Strangely enough, I am also the more prolific reader these days! They, especially my sister, found it quite surprising that I find the time to read in spite of a fairly busy schedule that includes a job, and two small children to raise.

Growing up in a small town in Assam in the 80s with no television in our colony till a neighbour bought a small black and white model, reading was something we did without question. With a bookworm for a sister, it was only natural that I turned out to be something of a precocious reader. But at no time did I get a feeling that I was in any way different from my friends who all, I think, read. Tintin, Asterix, Archies and commando comics were universally loved. Enid Blyton was a staple and so was Sherlock Holmes and classics by authors like Dickens, Jules Verne etc. I thought it was perfectly normal.

Coming to Kerala, I had the good fortune to study in a wonderful school, albeit in a small town. Again, I had classmates who read. But already the percentage of readers had lessened. It was the probably the first time that I heard people actually say that reading was boring.

By the time I got to college, readers were few and far between. My sister, who had preceded me to the same institution, did not have a single friend or batchmate who read. She was considered to be something of a curiosity, with her nose always in a book. I was luckier. My two closest friends read. One introduced me to ‘To kill a mocking bird’ and the Laura Ingalls series, the other, to more populist authors like Colleen McCollough. A third friend fired my enthusiasm for impressionist painting. Those were heady days. I devoured classics, philosophy, history and biography. I read every author whom I thought it behooved me to read. I struggled through quite a few books that I didn’t enjoy. I was feeling my way then, but today, I read only for pleasure.

While reading was always my biggest and my most enduring passion I had a fierce love for music and cinema, which is why I probably didn’t get slapped with the ‘bookworm’ tag. All this and more we talked about this Onam. But I was telling my sister that there was a big change since our college days. Fewer people read, I observed; on the other hand, more people read what was fashionable to read than in our day. That meant the current booker winner; the Indian-author-writing-in-English who was the flavour of the moment; or the unexpected runaway hit. And another thing – in the age of the internet, geography is no longer crucial in connecting people of similar interests. It has been great to note, on orkut or facebook, on blogs or elsewhere, that reading is flourishing! The guy sitting next to you may not be reading, but the chick you are chatting with, is.

My close pals have all become mothers in the last decade, some twice over. Connecting with them recently, I was surprised – though I really don’t know why I should be – to discover that they had all been reading Harry Potter, and around the same time as me! It felt terrific that like me, in the midst of all their chores they too had been caught up in the same excitement.

I often tell people around me – I have to read, because that is what helps me write, and that is how I earn my living. But I also know that this is something I do more for pleasure than anything else and I know I’ll always love reading. I hope I’ll always be surrounded by people who share this love!

On my table now? Better English by Vallins. A book which reminds me to write with more coherence and regard for grammar! High time, I must say. And a book by Baroness Orczy, whom I haven’t read since school.

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