In 2010, I passed out of high school, a bespectacled, studious girl whose Progress Report card most often contained the word ‘diligent’. As 2020 closes, yes, I am still a student, still bespectacled – owning three pairs of glasses, but so much more, owing a great deal to the decade that elapsed in the meantime. So here is an ode to the 2010s, a decade that defined my personality and established, to a large extent, who I will be.
At the beginning of the decade, a simple dream took its early form in me. Through the ten years, it has staunchly stood by me, becoming the single most important influencer of every decision I have made. Thus, it rightfully takes the left most position on stage during this Curtain Call.
It was not always very clear. In the initial stage, it oscillated unsteadily, between Physics and Literature. Sometimes, it screamed, ‘I want to be an Author!’, and other times, slightly more ferociously, ‘I want to be an Astronomer!’. The latter was the very first life aspiration I had ever had, one that gripped an 8 year old gazing into the night sky, hence this bias towards it. The one about being an author, was an inevitable consequence of a close relationship with books. But that was it, these were the only two states my dream was willing to acquire. It listened to no one else. Two years of Senior School settled the deal : ‘I would study Physics, and read books in my spare time.’ Ten years later, not much has changed. I still study Physics and read books in my spare time, only, my Ph.D in Astronomy does not allow me much for the other on some days.
It was certainly not an easy ride. What in life is ever one? Those lows, when I would be found huddled in a corner, teary eyed, furious at the self, bitter at the world. The highs which I was always scared to celebrate, precisely because I had known the lows so well. When I look back, I see very hard toil. But at the time, it felt like I wasn’t doing anything. Ironies I am yet to understand.
Every single dream I have nurtured, have come to me. But none arrived at the precise moment I wanted. They came to me later, after pulling me through the dejection of not getting what I wanted, when I had worked enough to earn them, when I had matured above the desire for them. It was as if, life took note of my dreams, slowly, with a magnificent fountain pen on this smooth brown parchment with intricate designs in the corners. It probably dozed off in the process or something, I don’t know. Time passed by, and when I least expected it, life packed up something from that list, tied this beautiful bow on it (I didn’t even ask for the bow), knocked on my door, and left it at my doorstep. I picked up the package, squinted at it for a while and finally recognising what it is, shook my head and thought to myself, ‘life, oh life! You bring this to me now, I had already forgotten about it.’
Life was slow, but life was listening. Always. It ensured that I ripened enough as a person, before bringing me something I might have asked for. It ensured that I stayed humble and saw the magic of focussed hard work. It took its time and brought me more beautiful version of what I asked for, one that aligned better with the person I was meant to be. It took me along the path to right here, right now : and there is no other place I would rather be.
Books have been a constant in life, since that day when I was 7 and I got my first Noddy from what Poornima Ma’am recommended to Amma. So let me next call upon the stage, to stand next to my dream, the books.
Round of applause.
How many books would I have read in this past decade? Let’s do a back of the envelope estimate. Goodreads tells me that in 2020, I read 14 books, and in 2019, 15. And these were two heavy years in my life, when I lived in a foreign country dedicating my life to my Ph.D. The less hectic life would have been in a particular year, the more number of fiction I would have indulged in. So, 15 is a good value for the number of books I read per year. That makes it a one hundred and fifty books in this decade. I wouldn’t be able to name each of them, but I can tell with certainty that I have loved each of them, although in different ways. Even to hate a book after reading it, I believe, is having loved it. The only other relationship I can have with a book, is anonymity. I haven’t yet met the books I haven’t read. And that is it.
Why would I harbour such a romantic notion when it comes to books? Why do I worry that they’d get wet if it rained, and bring books lying on the street home, even if they are not of my taste? Why am I drawn to used book stores in different cities? Why do I feel uneasy when there is no current read by my bed? Why does the perfect Sunday morning still look like one where I can curl up under the sun with a cup of coffee and a book?
I don’t know.
Probably the same reason why most often the gifts I receive are bookish. Why the first thing I pack into a travel bag is a book. Why even when the house is upside down, I can be spotted in a messy corner with my book. Why a lot of people have come up to me asking for recommendations on what to read. Why one thing I look for in a partner is an affinity for books.
Books were once a source of escape. But now they have risen above, and become an absolute necessity. This, I think is one very crucial element of my identity. The books I have read has each added to making me, me. However one may deny it, what we feed the mind, is what the mind plays around with in its idleness. And that is a dangerous power.
Looking back at the decade one book that stands out in my memory is, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, copies of which I still keep gifting to my favourite people. I would forever be grateful to Bruce Allen for introducing me to Primo Levi, whose WWII ordeal as well as fiction wrapped in such eloquence had shifted my perspective on more than one occasion. I remember how uniquely I enjoyed the cunningness of Roald Dahl some time in 2015. I remember being able to see and listen to Ruskin Bond in Kolkata, in 2013 or 2014, his stories set in the mountains having given me respite during dry times. I want to mention Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Lowland’ because I recollect what reading it felt like, back in 2013. I also had an Amitav Ghosh phase, which declined after my unhappy relationship with his ‘Calcutta Chromosome’. I distinctly remember the literary richness of ‘Lolita’, I still get a thrill out of reading aloud the first line of the book. Arundhati Roy’s ‘Listening to Grasshoppers’ left me searching for my naivete about the state of my nation. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’, and found myself indulging in crime thrillers a lot over this time.
The regret is that amongst these, only a handful were in Malayalam. Hopefully there is time left to correct that.
A piece of wisdom that I carried close to heart throughout this time, and repeated frantically during those moments which would decide everything else because of the sheer volume of things at stake, was from Pooh bear. He had said,
‘When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles.’
And that’s exactly what I did. That’s what I plan to do.
(to continue ..)