I was never a much of a books guy. When I look back and think as to why I never read many books when I was a child it was simply because I hated sitting at one place. That’s why I was never good at Ludo, Carrom, Monopoly, Chess and reading books. We had enough of books at school; I mean really enough of them and with every year in school passing by, the pile on my study table used to get wider and heavier. So I did not read. I used to be on the streets playing Cricket whenever I was free. Or I used to do a Bradman knocking a tennis ball at the backyard of my home leaving stains on the wall which I am sure used to give more than just sleepless nights to our landlord. Those days the only books I read were Tinkle, Tintin, Super Commando Dhruv , Phantom and Mandrake.
But I knew reading must be good in someway or the other. Infact as I grew up I found myself surrounded by more and more people rattling off reading as a hobby when asked about their favorite pastime. I joined college and one fine day I thought I should start preparing for CAT. So I joined Career Launcher and then I got to know reading books might just help. It did not come naturally to me so I had to push myself hard, really hard to start serious reading. I used to think people who mentioned reading as a hobby had to be sissies. It’s a beautiful world out there under the sun. Loads of people to meet, things to talk about and places to go to. Why would anyone trade off all these things and read and only read inside the four walls of a house?
It used to darn painful for me to pick up a book and acknowledge that for a few hours I am going to give up so many things in my life. Most things in my life begin with Cricket, (most of my English essays in school did) so I thought I should begin reading books on Cricket and Cricketers. It would be less painful that way and the British Library in Trivandrum had a good collection. I told myself that the poison of reading I was about to unleash in my life would be slow and it would be easier for me to pick up this evil habit this way. I began with a few autobiographies. Allan Lamb’s took about a week. Jonathan Agnew’s less than that. Botham’s not more than 3 days. Sobers’ took 2 days. And then I picked up Sunny Days and then Idols and then Not Quite Cricket and then The Record Breaking Sunil Gavaskar and then Azhar by Harsha Bhogle and then Sachin by Gulu Ezekiel (he stars with Sachin in a recent MRF Ad). It was not so bad after all. The Cricket angle was helping it. I also congratulated myself in being smart enough to tide over this crucial decision in my life in a fairly elegant manner. And in between I came across Sir Neville Cardus. I still stop in between reading his essays and gasp for breath and resume reading. They are brilliant! Then I read a book called A Soldier’s Diary by Harinder Baweja, a first hand account of the Kargil war and that was something! We meet people who change our lives, we see movies that have an impact on the way we perceive things and we read books that change the equation of reading.
A Soldier’s Diary did it for me.
I started clinging onto fiction now. And since it was the CAT phase and you are not acknowledged well read in the management community unless you read it, I read the Fountainhead. I vividly remember sweating it out. It was terribly long. It took me a good four months to finish it. Never had I inflicted so much duress in finishing one book. Dominique Francon, Peter Keating , Guy something, Howard Roark and that verbose Ellsworth Toohey. One never meets people who can talk like Mr. Toohey in real life. It was fiction at its best in terms of language. But in terms of plot and the storyline it was only mediocre. The only fiction that I was really enjoying was Wodehouse and Conan Doyle’s. So I went back to autobiographies. Atleast, I thought I will get to know about something that truly existed. What fun in reading stories when you can watch them in movies? But the more and more I read about successful people I realized that all of them, I repeat all of them were voracious readers. All the impressive people I met were well read. And here I was still in college and still being such a whimsical reader. So I pushed myself harder to read more and it evolved into a love-hate relationship with reading. I loved it when I was not reading.
Everyone knows being vegetarian is good and smoking is bad. Yet the world has millions of smokers and non vegetarians. To me, reading posed a similar dilemma. I knew it was good but I had problems adopting it. And then one day I went to Higginbothams on M.G. Road at Bangalore and I spent almost an hour with Sandy that day flipping pages. I suddenly felt like buying some of the books. Part of the stimulus was the fact that the store had a cricket magazine worth 585 bucks. I began visiting it more often. And I started picking pirated copies off the streets in Bangalore and then I visited Blossoms a super duper book store again in Bangalore. It got me the one book called Spin and Other Turns I was looking for ages. I made friends with the owner and thus reading began.
I still am not a voracious reader but I guess I have come to the stage where I believe I am not missing out on much in the world when I am reading. I go to stores like Crosswords when I have not much to do nowadays and I almost wish Crosswords existed when I was a child. They have put up good sprawling stores all over the country and I think they are really doing our nation a favor by atleast getting some of the children and teenagers today off the internet, the video games, the saas bahu stuff and the absolutely crappy movies that Bollywood is dishing out. No Entry , Bunty Aur Babli ,Dhoom , Veer Zaara and Waqt were only box-office hits .Period.
If you think of it seriously as we are getting more and more advanced our means of entertainment are getting more and more gibberish. It’s a pity that a movie like No Entry grossed 40 Crores in India alone. If you look at the pie of a 16-25 year old’s spend on books in real terms today and five years back it would not be a surprise that the spend was higher 5 years back. I recently interviewed atleast 50 people in that age group from the cities of Chennai and Mumbai. 3 of them said reading was a top hobby. When I was in my college almost everyone said reading was a top hobby. It could be a small-town big-city comparison funda too yet I don’t think that is a statistic to be proud of. I think it was Francis Bacon who once said that reading maketh a complete man. I think the author was right. That credit should not go to Raymond Suitings.
I would not change many things in my life. It’s spanned out pretty well till now but if I were asked to go back in time and change one thing about myself, I think I would ask for a better appetite for reading. I think it’s beautiful. I would have also wished for more and more Crosswords. Nothing like reading a crisp new bestseller off the shelf for FREE! :)