There is not a question in the world that does not have an answer in one book or another.
I have always been, for as long as I can remember, a keen reader. I don’t know why exactly. Could be the feel of paper on the fingers, the pictures in my head as I fly from my house to some remote corner of the world far far away, or just the feeling of mischief that I was taking part in a secret, silent sojourn that kept getting better and better with every turn of the page. The best books, in my opinion, are those that allow you to suspend your situation, to step into another world and live the life of another.
My earliest reading memory is from a newspaper. I was in nursery school, one of those Montessori places that’s made for learning and adventure, but only the accepted kind. I could read a little, I can remember, but it was mostly telling the differences between cat, bat and mat. I saw the headline and I tried to make the words out. Can’t remember what they were, but that was the start of a long and wonderful journey.
I got books from all sorts of places. ‘Tell Me Why’ from my Godparents, ‘George and Martha’ and Winnie the Pooh from my mother, Asterix and Obelix from the National Library, Ben Hur from Blue Bells Primary School, Think Big and Gifted Hands from the neighbours… It seems the world was conspiring to make me as well read as possible. It helps that I was a rather imaginative child. Give me a book with pictures and I hold imaginary dialogues. Give me a story and I follow it to the end, reading it twice or thrice over to find things I might have missed.
I remember reading The Count of Monte Cristo during a reading lesson in class, and later writing a composition where I was Dantès, and the composition got randomly high marks for being ‘very original’. English teacher (who gave me the book in the first place) hadn’t read it herself. Stories, after all, are for telling and re-telling and building into fantastic and beautiful tales.
I passed exams because I read my textbooks well in advance. I knew what the teachers were talking about. Ridiculously varied aspects like the Greenwich Meridian and the composition of soil. I read, because I was thoroughly entertained by the new knowledge I was getting, and all the attention I received as a result.
Books entertain my senses, not just sight alone. I remember a book on Alexander the Great that had a particular smell. Old paper smell. I remember reading Babar because the colour pictures were beautiful, especially the feeling of the smooth, glossy paper on which they were printed. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I did not try to figure out what books tasted like, otherwise there would be an awful lot of books with bite marks in them…
I am learning to read for the sake of reading again, because my education gave the art of reading a utilitarian twist, so books were means to an end that were supposed to be discarded when their usefulness was over, rather than being stores of knowledge, gatherings of words that turned attention towards the inner workings of the world as seen through someone’s eyes. I read so that my world does not remain limited to my immediate surrounding, but rather that I know what goes on in far off lands and times, to see what happened in the past and present, and what could happen in the future.
I read to find out what happens to the protagonist that’s introduced at the beginning. And to fight his battles and to share his insight.
I am still reading, because I want to know more. I don’t want my life to be a pyramid, where a broad base tapers to a tiny point. I want it to be a tree reaching to the sky, with strong, deep roots and a thousand million branches, with nests and birds and lovers in the shade, with stories carved into the trunk,with leaves and pages continuously turning.
I read, because books are happiness.