I admire those who read multiple books concurrently. I really do. And I also admire people who plough through books at an amazing pace. My son is like that. Give him a book, any book, and he stays glued to it like most people stick to their favourite TV shows. I have tried telling him that the story will be kind enough to wait for him to get back after attending to somewhat important actions like bathing or eating. But that’s not a risk he thinks is worth taking!
Me, I have to savour the book. I need to experience for myself what the central and not-so-central characters are going through. I need to smell the air around them and live their emotional lives vicariously. If Humayun is making a lonely trek across the high passes to reach Persia I need to feel the cold air on my face, worry that the stock of firewood and dried dates is almost over. My stomach cramps in shared labour with Hamida as Akbar pushes his way through into the world and I quiver with indignation as my half-brother carts away little Akbar and dares to look upon my wife directly. As you can possibly sense, my reading leaves me exhausted!
If the book is one of those `non-fiction’ ones I need to constantly summarise in my head what the author is saying, have long monologues with her on why this is or is not making sense from where I sit . And so books sit on my stand for what, to my son, seems an eternity! Ah well! Better that than no bookshelf at all I assuaged myself.
So it was with a sense of wonder that I read that Raj Kapoor once allegedly (heh heh… the Times Of India newspaper style `alleging’) said in an interview that he had never read any books other than Archie Comics. That the bunch from Riverdale told him all that he ever needed to know about life. Now I don’t understand ALL comics e.g. I have never quite got Peanuts. Give me Calvin any day. But what is it about Archie that I am missing here?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to dismiss comics as frivolous at all. They are a seriously serious form of art. Every little line and indeed, the absence of some little line too, is not a matter of chance but born of studied understanding of human perception and inferencing. The book `Understanding Comics’ opened my eyes to THAT once and for all. But I still think the Archie comic thing is bit fanciful. What say?
That reminds me of a candidate I interviewed once. He courageously (and fans of Humphrey Appleby will remember this isn’t a very bright path to take) voluntarily proffered that he was not into reading. `I learn from movies’ he proclaimed. So, seeing as he was hoping to channelize the discussion and keen to see where this would lead, I asked, `So which is your favourite `learning’ movie?’ and he says, “It is No Entry”. I acquiesced. My courage failed me.
Time was when I had all the answers … to my son’s questions.. why is the sky blue, why is blood not blue, why can’t I fly, why should I eat this stuff …
That was in the old days. They are getting more and more difficult as the years go by, why should I go to school, how can humans have kids before they are married, is the tooth fairy for real? Is God for real?
Now I seem to be using `I don’t know’ more and more in my conversations with my nine year old.
Him: ” Mamma, What should I do now?” (hanging in the air unsaid ..considering that you will say `NO’ to my watching TV or playing on the computer)
Me: “Ummm… read something”
Him: ” There’s nothing to read….”
Me: ” Try the newspaper”
Son throws me a withering glance that I, buried behind the Sunday Edition, am impervious to. I have bought a few seconds of silence
Him: (few seconds later) “Mamma is Captain Flint for real?”
I don’t know
You are not listening
Flint you know
I don’t know
Flint.. from the book I read .. he’s a pirate
Oh, from a book? No, then, he is not for real. Imaginary.
Then is Hook real?
I don’t know
Exasperated .. “OKAY…..WHO Hook?”
Captain Hook ..from Peter Pan
But the name appears in so many pirate books….
Oh.. it does? Then maybe it is based on some real character from long ago
I have decided
Good.. as the seconds go by a niggling disquiet asserts itself in me… What have you decided?
I will be a pirate when I grow up
No..no ..not WHAT, that’s WHO I will be
The newspaper article I was trying to read on the variety of career options for today’s youth suddenly takes on a new and rather too personalised context…
Well…it will be fun. I’ll sail about, I’ll look for treasure…
They do other stuff too you know…
Okay.. I’ll hijack some ships on the way
But you know that they are basically robbers right?
Then why are they not called robbers?
Because they rob on the seas not on land
Son gives me a look of `that’s stupid’ but mercifully lets it go …
Go read about the Somalian pirates in the newspapers..
Dismissively Yeah, yeah, I know the Indian Navy is catching all of them ..
..And you know what happens to pirates that get caught?
Conveniently ignoring my overt hints about the possible dangerous consequences of his chosen profession
Me trying again, “You can be whatever you want..just remember to use the Hedgehog Principle” I know I know …. I should enjoy it
make enuf money from it …
.. jubilantly filling in the puzzled pause…..
U SHOULD BE BETTER THAN MOST AT IT! ..(Thank you Jim Collins…)
Me warming to the theme, happy & secure in my knowledge that being a pirate would fail benchmark 3! ..y’know..genetically coded for it…
How does one get genetically coded?
Well ….. (working out complicated answer about genes and Darwin and ……)
It might be true you know
What might be?
That we are genetically coded by Magratheans
Seeing stupid vacant look on my face..
In an exasperated tone “Haven’t you read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?”
Oh.. from that BOOK ..then that’s not for real ..
How do you know that for sure?
Giving up..I don’t know
Stalking off disgusted …..What DO you know?
Well …. pretty much less and less about more and more.
What does that make me …. a Super UN-specialist?
P.S.: All you parent’s who complain that their kids don’t read books… you should be counting your blessings instead.