Doesn’t almost everybody who is not a punk rock musician or a star athlete have reading as their favourite hobby? Long before trekking, photography, and collecting memorabilia (with the exception of stamp collecting) were the “in” things for which your life had a passion? Reading was the sad excuse that every kid who didn’t have any original or congenital talent/desire stooped to.

I didn’t know that. Coz I loved reading. So much that when I was a little kid, my dad enrolled me in the British Council Library, where I devoured the books on Greek and Roman history and mythology feeding the voracious appetite for reading to a frenzy…till when I reached the teen age, books were banned at home, because seemingly, I spent more time with them than with my textbooks. At 13, I hadn’t seen enough of the world to know that that was the most natural thing on earth – to have a life other than school, and so, unwilling to appear rebellious, the books I borrowed from friends were always read in the bathroom. My Mother to this day wonders why bathing took such a long time for me once I hit my teenage years.

But, it wasn’t just books I read. The newspaper, cover to cover, the editor and his column becoming my best friends. The magazines at home, my mothers book of anatomy and physiology, the whole volume of Encyclopedias at home, the users manual of the new VCR/camera, brochures, anything….my classmates had the wrong impression that I lived to eat, but the truth was I lived to read.

I wasn’t too picky on what I read – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators, Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew and Franklin W Dixon’s Hardy boys. Well, maybe I was…I was a sucker for the mystery genre, gradutating to Agatha Christie’s Ms Marple and Hecule Poirot and Arthur Canon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Moonlighting, Remington Steele and in the age of cable TV, Fornesic Detectives (on Discovery Channel) and CSI. I even wanted to join Medicine and become a pathologist. That’s one of the influences my reading has had on me.

When I was about 14, I read about Atticus Finch and what he did, about how and why he did what he did. A not-so-young, upright, courageous, patient and just man, who expected (somehow that has become such an aggressive word!) nothing less from his children and those around in Harper Lee’s book. He was a man that made you think that there was reason in being human, justice in principles, and joy in hope. To a 14 year old, there was meaning beyond existence, and I decided books and authors had a responsibilty to make you a better man than you were before. That’s the other influence reading had on me.

My reading habits have not remained as voracious as my teenage years nor as faithful (in  partaking the joy of the world created by the author), but I am astonished that readers of the world never have to despair, since I’ve always had a source – the pirated books near Churchgate Station, when I was stationed in Mumbai. I lived in Borivali, the northen most corner of Mumbai and  took a Rs.9 ticket to travel all the way South, to enter the world of Anna Karenina and the Mill on the Floss. It was odd that I would read one of my favourite Indian authors, Rabindranath Tagore, for the first time on a short term assignment in Toronto, from the Toronto Public library at Nathan Philips Square. More Greek and Roman History followed and I fell in love with Spartans, long before 300. Back in Mumbai, I travelled again South for my books. The law had by this time swept away 4 decades of pirated history, and I resorted once again to the British Council Library to understand religion and renaissance.

This was when I started buying books. Filling shelves in the hope that one day when I’m retired and bored, I would die happy in my armchair ensconced in a book. I did get around to reading My experiments with Truth, but stopped halfway though An argumentative Indian. I liked Sen’s appraisal of the Indian psyche, that Black was right and White was right, depending on the context from which you measured them. But there in lies the danger. If ever I looked at life from the wrong context, everything I did could be justified…perhaps that’s why I would shudder at Lolita, and think that Uncle Tom’s Cabin should be read by every human on earth. It also lent credence to the belief that truth has to be absolute, else somebody would get hurt, and according to the Butterfly effect, that would lead to chaos in the world. It did, don’t you think?

Perhaps this chaotic, seemingly meaningless world is the reason I wanted to know why Christ said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…I found out, and this was the influence that changed my life. Someday, you should give it a try too…

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