At the moment I am very happy. I have achieved something that I had decided 24 years ago.
In 1984, I met ‘A’. He was a great scholar, a good orator and a calm person. Even then he was an Encyclopedia on Indian Culture and Religion. I did not like only one aspect of his behavior. If he had to speak to me, he always looked at some other thing and talked to me – totally avoiding eye contact. I used to get angry with him feeling that he was treating me as dirt (he did it to all women!). Even listening to his humorous comments (I am sure he still has a very good sense of humor) was always painful because he never shared it directly with me. I respected him but I never liked him. I never went to him for any discussions, I kept a conscious distance.
One day, while taking breakfast, he suddenly said, ‘How many books do you read in a year?” I was enjoying my dosa, and anyway, I thought the question must have been to someone else. Then ‘A’ raised his voice and said, ‘Sister, I am asking you, please, answer” and he repeated his question. As always he was not looking at me. There was no one else in the dining hall, so he was definitely talking to me. I was surprised with his pro-activeness. But I felt humiliated. I angrily asked, “Why should I tell you?” Such an answer was indeed courageous on my part, because if he wanted, he could throw me out of the organization.
More surprise. Instead of getting angry, ‘A’ smiled. He looked at me. He said, “I see that you like reading. But have some definite goal for reading. You should read at least one book per week. Books are the friends who always help and don’t expect anything from you. Books are always a good company; you will never feel lonely in life. Don’t forget, a book per week.” I was stunned. He smiled again – little at me, little at himself. He poured coffee in a glass, handed over to me, looked at me, smiled and walked away.
I did not understand him that day, nor do I understand him today. But I was touched by his advice, by his act of serving coffee to me. I decided to follow the path he had suggested. I knew that it was for my good.
Every year I kept records of the books I read. I have read as less as 9 books in a year, and the highest so far was 44 books in a year. At the end of every year I felt sorry that I have not followed the path ‘A’ had suggested. Every New Year started with the determination, and ended with disappointment, for 24 long years.
But today, I have finished with 52nd book of 2008. I have read Fiction, Religion, Philosophy, Biography, Humor, Economics, Drama, Technology, Ecology, History, Poetry, Ideology, Short stories, Development, Mathematics, Sociology……. I do not have any discipline in reading, but I have cherished every book that I have read. I hear some of you saying ‘quality matters, not quantity…’ Yes, I know. That is why it took me so many years to achieve it.
All these books made my days wonderful …. I don’t know whether it has added wisdom, but I certainly have smiled and learnt to face painful moments with courage. As a human being I have definitely grown with these books.
I know the senses are going to loose their power if I live long – slowly but definitely. A time may come, when I will not be able to read…… I am sure even then the books will be with me….. Some things in life go away but some grow within you … unless the time is ripe they are not visible. I know, these books have come to me crossing all the barriers of time, culture, language…. they are to stay with me.
Why don’t you too ‘book a week’?