Various ways to love books

I must have started reading quite early since I cannot really recollect a time when I did not read. Of course, considering my earliest recollection is of reading the Noddy series (which back then only 5 year olds read), I assume my memory is nothing great. I am however told, and was once upon a time shown proof as well, of books literally consumed as a child. Expensive books about happy families who lived in colourful pages and talked about numbers, colours, alphabets and other such things the average two year old may find interesting and their parents brain numbingly boring.

At some point in early childhood, began a love story with books.

Anytime, anyplace is a good time and good place to read a book.

Like reading at the dining table. Something I did not realize was an impolite thing not encouraged in most decent families. Unfortunately in ours, since both the parents had a book each in their hands at every meal, the two of us kids followed suit.

Or reading lying down on the bed or sprawled on the sofa. Apparently it never occurred to the said parents to warn us about spoilt eyes.

Reading on the pot is a wider activity I believe. But only very few institutionalize the activity by having a small book holder built next to the toilet roll.

Countless exams have been sacrificed to the lure of a promising book that just had to be finished. It would start as an innocuous break from geography or physics. The break would extend from ten minutes to half an hour till one realized when the last page came that there was not enough time left to study for the geography or the physics exam.

This unfortunate habit of wrong prioritizing grew into adult hood as well. When I managed to get an interview with an investment bank and was on the threshold of putting away the dreary corporate banking job I was doing forever, one would have assumed that I would prepare like mad. Instead, I chose to peruse the entire second book of the Krishna Leela series, a completely Hindi movie styled story of Lord Krishna, complete with romances and politics. Sure enough, at the interview I could only vaguely recollect concepts on valuation of a company. The fact that I had part 3 of the series to read threw a fairly largish ray of sunshine on the bleak job prospects.

I have been forced to carry books to work and hang around in the train station finishing it off before getting back into normal life. Or read in the bus, knowing fully well that this greed for one page would cost a whole four hours of feeling sick given inability to handle reading in a vehicle moving on the road. Under drastic situations, I have had to take the book to office and then read it in the loo, completely unmindful of the fact that I probably look like I have a really bad case of diarrhea.

Parents, sibling, various friends and now the loving spouse have all been told to defer conversation while I finished an interesting part of the book. Only the fact that most of them are avid readers themselves can explain why I still have all of them around. The only other time I have deferred conversation is when it is naptime or bedtime. Yet, even this sacrosanct schedule of my life has been postponed for the good cause of a good book. How can one sleep without knowing what Lata decided to do in A Suitable Boy.

The only thing more tantalizing than a book one is reading is a book someone else is reading. It has become a habit now to take a quick peak into the books of temporary neighbours on flights and trains. One can talk to perfect strangers because you know that they must be your kind of person given they are reading your kind of book. Or reading a book you have not heard of and which sounds interesting.

A true nightmare is when there is absolutely nothing to read. As a child, it seemed the easiest thing to do was raid the parents small bookcase. My parents preferred to borrow than buy given they moved houses every two or three years. And among the books they considered necessary to own at that stage was one on parenting. Which was good reading for the ten year old me, since I knew exactly what to advise them when they were handling a situation with me quite badly.

Of course this lead to a phase of life where certain books were not considered suitable for ‘kids’. The laundry list also included Sidney Sheldon, whose tantalizing scenes my mother decided was not for twelve year olds of those days. Back then, the only TV channel, DD edited out all scenes which involved two adults actually making any sort of attempt at physical contact. The sex scenes of Sidney Sheldon would have been a shock to the system. This shortly lead to my sister hiding her Sidney Sheldon behind a newspaper cover and reading it in the cover of late night.

Now there are no forbidden lists except by the government. This then leads to picking up a pirated paperback version on the streets of Mumbai, the best upholder of democracy.

But there is a rare situation where you are caught without a book. At the dining table when one is too lazy to go and get a book. Labels of Pepsi bottles or jam jars have been perused under such dire circumstances. There was one horrific flight where I was not carrying anything and did not have the time to visit the bookshop. I spent half the flight wondering if I should quietly filch my sleeping neighbour’s book and read it. To some extent, this shows (and I admit to it) slightly mongrel tastes in reading. But then, I have always maintained a true book lover is not defined by the high brow titles read as by the little acts that show a need to read.

Of course most days, other activities fill a lot of one’s time – going to work, talking to people, hitting the gym, watching TV. Yet at the end of the day I have to spend those ten minutes reading a few pages of the latest book I am reading. And then I am ready to sign off on the day and begin another day and turn another page.