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.