(The below article is an English translation of my writing which got published in The Hindu (Tamil) on 06/06/2016. To read the original article, go here: காபுலிவாலா தந்த உலகம் )
I was never strapped to a bed for a long time of twenty days before, not in that way. My parents had feared that I was down with malaria and I was stay put to a bed with a warning that I should not exert myself more physically. Although my arms were numb with tiredness and body with ache, my mind remained as free as always. The oppressive boredom of the loneliness caused by my fever made me to notice the sprawling presence of books on the shelves of my room. I had always looked at them before, even cleaned and dusted them off regularly. But, for the first time, I had time to notice them. I pulled open a book with a majestic spine which had a calm peaceful face of a man with a beard, and when I finished reading it, I had tears rolling down my eyes. The book is ‘Selected Short Stories of Rabindranath Tagore’, and the story I read that day was ‘Kabuliwala’. I don’t know what caused me the long fever but I remember that the bug of reading had infected me from then on. I was fourteen only, then.
It is always axiomatic that if a child reads, then there is a towering presence of a reader in the form of a parent behind her. To me, it is my dad, Singaravel. He always begins a day with a book and ends it too that way. And, the same goes true for my mom too. A crazy fellow my dad, do you know what a treasure trove of wealth I have inherited from him? It is dozens of notebooks made of cheap paper hand-written by him where he has copied the whole of a book when he was young because he had no money to buy them. It was this romance which made him to fill my home on all subjects ranging from history, geography, mythology, religion, philosophy, comics, and what not. He bought us books with the same glee with which he bought us our favorite toys. He never once forced anyone of us – me and my two sisters – to read a book. Yet, we three fetched the habit. And more, he never once said, “You are too young to read this”.
Although, my serious passion for reading began with Rabindranath Tagore it reached its full head when I finished Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian?”. The book gave me sleepless nights for a week and forced me to question almost all the conventional ideas I have absorbed for granted. It was Russell who brought me a great love for philosophy and History. It was also him who taught me early that just because an idea is widely accepted doesn’t make it any more credible. As time went on and as I grew, I began reading vociferously almost all books of Ramachandra Guha, George Orwell, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ayn Rand (I have a love and hate relationship with her), Italo Calvino, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ray Bradbury and the legends of Tamil writers including Jeyakanthan, Bharathiar, Mu. Va, Sundara Ramasamy, and Periyar.
Books have let me do things which I would have never done, if not for them. As a student of Chartered Accountancy and Company Secretaryship, failures have always been part of my lifestyle. It is books which gave me the warmth to withstand every fall and told me to hold on and succeed. Perhaps, above all, they tell me who I am and provides me the confidence that makes me to trust myself, and to have a clearer voice of my own thoughts.
In a society where women are still considered a far less equal sex than men, I wish more women take up reading, especially on politics and economics. It’s Virginia Woolf’s “Room of One’s Own” which told me the struggles undergone by the various women to have the rights which I enjoy and have taken for granted, today. It is Periyar who taught me that a woman must have economic independence first to own and voice her thoughts, boldly and fearlessly. It is only through books I learnt that women are taught about physical harassment only, but nothing on moral, emotional and psychological harassments, which is far crueler than the former. More, they told me that as a woman I should be more interested in politics and should not ignore the pressing affairs such as rape laws, security in public places, women welfare only be left to be handled by men alone.
Some of my friends often jokingly ask whether life is all only about reading. Perhaps, they have a point. No, life is not reading alone. I don’t even suggest that. And, I am not a nerd myself. I enjoy the company of my good friends, often travel, like shopping (not books!), and write. Then why should one read? It can be for two reasons. External success is often propelled by reading. Fame, fortune often goes the way where knowledge goes. And, I have personally been fortunate enough to work under Rajan, a great auditor as my Senior during my internship period who read a lot and raised to heights in his lifetime. I have been close to friends who read avidly and now in reputable positions across the world.
There is another reason. Reading as a habit has an intrinsic value. Reading is the only way to have a great many experiences which one would never even know that it exists otherwise. It is books which offer me a chance to have a handshake with the best of the minds, dead or alive. It gives me an opportunity to be grateful that to have a life on this good earth is a miracle to happen and I am a part of it too. It makes me realize that I am insignificant in the larger scheme of the universe but still a tiny spark of dust which can laugh. Readers usually fail. But, they don’t fail in the ordinary way of failure. They live a million lives in a day, weave extraordinary dreams within a short span of a lifetime, brave boisterously adventurous pursuits where they do experiments with themselves, and pick themselves up after every failure. They fail not as an ordinary person but as those precious ones who gives a tough fight, with an unbent spine in a crazy pursuit of a solid dream. Ninety-nine times out of hundred, such persons gets smashed down, broken down to pieces, and worse, laughed at; but, on the hundredth time, they are the ones who will change the world. I love reading; because I love to defeat the defeats and stand tall against all odds.
And so tell me, dear, what sort of person are you?
Note: *I have provided the unedited version of my original draft which I subsequently edited out before sending it out for publication, in order to keep it within the word count. Both in the published version and in the blog the underlying spirit has been retained as such. And, there are not many changes or alterations between the translation and publication.
*The picture I have used here is a postcard sent by one of my friends from Paris.
(This work is subjected to Creative Commons licensed and copyrighted. And, cannot be reproduced without the permission of the author or publisher).