Fine reads

I was talking to my sister recently and somehow the topic of books came up. I was telling her that I have so many nice books to read - am not finding enough time for them. Her pithy comment was, "Do you think there will ever be a time when you will not want to read a book?". I mused and I thought, naah, not really possible.

I might have mentioned this on the blog before, but my love for reading books stems from two primary sources: my grandfather and my mother. At my grandfathers' place we have this huge collection of books, right from the Upanishads to the Complete Works of Rabindranath Tagore. When I was a kid, I would usually come home after every vacation spent at his place with one or two gifts from one particular almirah: it had all sorts of gifts from medical firms with promotional labels of various drugs on them. But as soon as I turned old enough to understand some of the books, somehow the charms of the gifts started fading away. One of the best things I discovered as a kid was his collection of the Popular Mechanics encyclopedia. I have spent quite a few hours in his secluded library-ish section of the house poring through those instructions and figures for building all sorts of fun stuff at home. And then a little more maturity brought me closer to the works of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and little compilations of short stories from Rabindranath. I started to bring home entire collections of books from my grandfather's place when I used to return from my vacation, rather than little toys. They were fascinating reads. Although my head wasn't capable enough to grasp all the subtle nuances and underlying sarcasm of the society, whatever did not slip through the sieves provided enough nourishment to my brain cells.

I think the prime objective of all the language courses that are taught in school is not to make you learn obscure articles by rote but rather to teach you how to interpret the true meanings of those poems and clips from short stories and novels. My grandfather can and often does, to this day, quote wonderful passages from myriad Bengali poets and the Gita and Upanishads: all of these he had memorized in his school days. This very aspect of leading a life where you are intellectually capable of expressing feelings in such wonderful words is very fulfilling, I think. And of course it has been very inspiring to see it happen right in front of my eyes. Which leads us then to the secondary objective of the language courses we took in school: learn and remember the good stuff. Whether you like it or not, at one fine moment in life you would probably feel more emotionally and spiritually satisfied if you remember the beauty of one of those poems befitting the moment; forget the intellectual contentment. Fortunately, in my case, at least some of these courses brought to me "education" together with the quest for good marks in subjects such as Bengali which were considered unanimously difficult. As I went through some works of Michael Madhusudan Dutta or the intricacies of the character of Bipradas, it was enriching in its own way. Especially, since what I had learned at school equipped me to dig deeper into the meaning of the printed words: I feel fortunate that I did go through those courses in language.

In parallel, though, the collection of books in English literature that my mother had accumulated during her PhD hooked me up in a very different way. The classic works of English fiction were at hand, and I made full use of those. Curled up at home during lazy afternoons in vacations, I read a lot of those, and I mean a lot: right from R. L. Stevenson to Anita Desai. And of course this addiction to good books made me a compulsive buyer of books myself. Any books that come recommended by friends or someone erudite and respected usually remain tagged in my head: if I spot them and have the budget and time, I buy them! One of my favourite haunts was the annual book fair in my home town. It wasn't of course as big as the Calcutta book fair, but this fascination has lasted over the years and I've bought the entire collections of Sherlock Holmes and Salman Rushdie either at book fairs or from Mumbai's footpaths. I must also mention about the books related to the Ramakrishna Math and Mission I've bought as well - biographies, letters, lectures, reminisces... a really big selection which I've read entirely. I feel grateful to my school for introducing me to these books and thoughts: they form a large part of my collection at home.

Finally, I think I am getting to like non-fiction a lot more these days. An initial hook might have been the works of Ayn Rand and Swami Vivekananda, but now I have books from Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins on my bookshelf. And there have been blogs, newspaper editorials, magazines like The Economist, etc - all dealing with facts and news and giving insights into the happenings around the world. If you are one of those who claim the ten years of History classes at school were useless, think again - you are more influenced by those than you think. But the real puzzle of late has been to find the time to read all those books I possess. One of my new year resolutions, therefore, is to stop buying more books and read what I already have. I really really want to read them. And more importantly, re-read some of the things I read as a teenager. Vivekananda, Ayn Rand, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. I am certain that I need to revisit and replenish the philosophy they have given to me. The cumulative effect I feel steers my psyche everyday.


  1. It didn't post my comment!! :(

    Anywhoo, I was saying, try the library instead of buying books...I haven't bought a book in 3 years thanks to the huge library at my disposal. Anytime I want to read I head there and I never come back empty handed. I think I will be really sad now if I have to live without one nearby.

    Sky :)

    P.S. Delete if it posts twice.

  2. Sky, unfortunately this is the only comment that was posted. And I do visit the library nearby a lot of times. However, nothing like "owning" a book. :) But thanks for the reminder - I can save myself a lot of money this way.

  3. I disagree.. to some extent, with Sky. There are two types of book lovers: the book owners and the book borrowers. But in owning a book, there is a satisfaction. Hence the saying, "Wear the old coat and buy the new book." You may want to read or re-read any book at any random time. If you have bought the book, you don't have to worry about the timing of your wanting to read the book... you can be secure in the knowledge that you have it, and you can take it down from the shelf at midnight...

    As for Fine Reads, it was a fine read indeed! Yes, going back to your books from time to time, and clearing up a backlog before buying new.. it's a good resolution... But then you never know when you come across a gem... what do you do then?

  4. Arunava, yeah well hopefully the book is still going to be in print when I finish reading the current ones. This new year resolution is worth keeping for now :)

  5. even am a lover of books and i really miss out on it.....but seriously is it possible to take out time for reading and all....after offis and all!!!!!

  6. Shagufta, when there is a will there is a way. But I know what you mean... am in the same boat (although for different reasons).


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