Books open the world for us
Reading is a passion that makes one ignore the surroundings that one lives in and transports us to another world, time and place. It is an all consuming passion and it is this habit that makes us learn about the world at large. Attending speeches, listening to sermons etc may not bring us closer to the person as much as reading their prolific work; identifying with them and their ideas which would probably be the only way of gaining knowledge and becoming erudite.
I was very young when I read my first book. This was a borrowed one from a government library and thus the journey began. Mary Pollok or Enid Mary Blyton started it off. Famous Five and Seven, The Noddy Tales set the ball rolling, just when I felt that maybe it was too childish and it was time to graduate to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Someone said why not Perry Mason and then started a series of mystery stories, criminal minds and sharks in the courts. Seventy odd James Hadley Chase later, it was time for classics.
The government libraries surprisingly offered a range of thriller and horror tales and of course the ubiquitous Sherlock Holmes with his stories of The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four and The Valley of Death. Conan Doyle was the best but wait a minute did I not mention Agatha Christie? Death on the Nile was a notch above the rest saying nothing about Murder on the Orient Express definitely. Ordeal by Innocence was the pinnacle of human psychology undoubtedly. Dyslexia was definitely not stopping that lady any time then!
The journey continued with Harold Robbins, Arthur Hailey and Ken Follet. College saw the rise of the traditional classics which began with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, closely followed by The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, the sacred two of a literature aficionado. Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen closely followed. Shakespeare mesmerised, Bernard Shaw remained his poignant best while Sidney Sheldon took me by the thumb. The Russians swayed with Chekov, Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy and sometime later tastes changed.
The classics held their grip rather strongly for many years to come. It was necessary to churn out names and talk about the works and discuss at length whether Christopher Marlowe was a better playwright than the great Shakespeare. The debate continued while I personally loved Geoffrey Chaucer. It was always a question of have you read this or that, and the feverish quest would continue till it was read, discussed and dismissed for something better.
Introspecting strongly whether Shobhaa De could actually replace R K Narayan yet the equation of Indian writers does not end unless Khuswant Singh is added to the list. Just when I was deeply contemplating their importance in my life, I met P G Wodehouse who enthralled me with his Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. I gave myself the email identity of the ‘empress’ a dedication to Lord Emsworth. When I decided to name my home as ‘Blanding Castle’ I was steered away by the gripping Harry Potter mania. Pace and speed eventually took me along with Dan Brown and James Patterson.
The Indian brigade now attracted my attention and I plunged headlong with Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Gita Hariharan. When Chetan Bhagat came on the scene I felt that Indian writing has been revolutionised. Jeffrey Archer took me on a spin when one day the buck stopped with his post incarceration rebound. While the oscillation continued, I managed to read the intense yet grossly revolting works of Tarun Tejpal. Vikram Chandra’s ‘Sacred Games’ took forever to complete. Suddenly the urge was to read the Man Booker awardees and it was ignited by none other than Arundati Roy and later followed by Adiga and Kiran Desai. When neither Orhan Pamuk nor Gabriel Garcia Marquez kept the fire burning I stopped the intellectual pursuit with Howard Jacobson, only to take up Rohinton Mistry and later wind it up with the romantic Nicholas Sparks.
Robin Sharma’s The Monk who sold his Ferrari took me on a practical yet realistic tangent and I realised that sermonising was not just Osho or Vivekananda or Swamy Chinmaya’s forte but a different ball game altogether. Shiv Khera came along and propounded a new mantra for self growth, realisation and introspection. Romance touched my heart with Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights yet I never underrated poets and poems, being a great fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Subramanian Bharati.
Drama too held its sway and Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams did what no other play could have done; but it was fiction that attracted my attention and short stories in particular. Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde and O. Henry told stories that captured my heart and soul. Whether it was Abdul Kalam with his Ignited Minds or Sudha Murthy with being Wise and Otherwise the zest continued. Then came Amish Tripathi and changed my perspective towards my beliefs and convictions. He humanised Lord Shiva in his Shiva trilogy and continued to inspire my reverence with the legendary tale of Lord Ram. Khalid Hosseini added And the Mountains Echoed to his iconic The Thousand Splendid Suns and his Kite Runner I thought that maybe Fifty Shades of Grey would save me from the pursuit of excellence when significantly Toni Morrison showed The Bluest Eye. Every age, every genre of writers I explored, read and ingested.
The cornucopia of information and knowledge was exponential. Somewhere along the way I realised that they have nurtured and groomed me to become what I am today. It is their life, feelings and emotions that I could sense, empathise with and believe in; and that has helped me teach and share with all my students over the years. Once when a student thanked me for helping her answer a question about a writer and his book in the Kaun Banega Crorepati series, she was elated because her parents had praised her for her general awareness while the truth was, she had not read the book! It was my passing reference to the writer in the class that she had recalled. Till date this remains in my memory and reminds me of the influence upon my students who I encourage constantly about the importance of reading.
I use my Kindle now and read as many as three books simultaneously. As I strongly propagate against wastage of paper, I took to the e-book like fish to water and I am obliged to my constant companion, which has always made me laugh, cry and feel excited all at once. In the company of writers, I have travelled the length and breadth of the country and the world over and each experience has been more enriching than the earlier one.
I possess a strong inclination and craving to read translations of many works of countries and languages and writers who are unknown to me and perhaps there would be a lot more to learn than what I have learnt over the years; surely the journey would continue with much to be explored. Sometimes during the night I ask myself exactly why I love books. The answer is they are my life.
Subhashini Ramakrishnan is the Vice Principal of St. George’s School, Alaknanda. She graduated in English Honours from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University and is a post graduate in English from Madras University. Thereafter, she pursued her education and acquired her degrees in B.Ed and M.Phil. She has a working experience of 22 years having worked in different schools across the country and has taught all the syllabi including the A level. She has published her book, a collection of short stories namely No Stones Upturned in the year 2012 and continues to write for various newsletters and magazines. She has contributed vastly to teaching, training and content writing for various schools and corporate organisations.