After years of internet addiction, I found myself doubting my ability to read a physical book. Is it possible to go back to reading a paper book – cover to cover?
Travelling by train, after many years, was, at once, both exciting, and disheartening. We were to be confined to the train for a total of 60 hours. No access to a computer, or the internet. It was a welcome break. But that meant I’d have to find something else to do… Perhaps read a book?
I stared at the long row of bookshelves – there were perhaps close to two hundred books. Comprehensive books on all aspects of business, a twenty four-volume set on crafts, course material on computer science, old and yellowing documentation on world history, several rather heavy books purchased through mail offers, essays on English literature, general knowledge, several abridged (poorly edited) children’s illustrated classics, and an assortment of books on health, spirituality, philosophy, and even palmistry!
Sandwiched in between these books, were some books I recognised. Some purchased, some gifted, and some inherited – all with a particular memory attached. The weathered ‘As You Like It’, which I had requested my parents to buy so that I could read it during the summer vacations. The ‘Little Women’ that my aunt had gifted me for my tenth birthday, with a handwritten note inside. The unabridged ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which I had already read thrice!
For the past several years, bringing books had been, unofficially, banned. But if I brought them temporarily, it wouldn’t hurt – much. So two days before our departure, I struck a deal with a friend of mine. We were going to have a book exchange!
On the staircase of a busy metro station, to the amusement of passengers, two girls sat, chatting – catching up on each other’s lives, pondering over some serious topics, and, at times, giggling uncontrollably. As the evening wore on, we decided to call it a day and presented our books to each other.
On the way back, I stared at the paper bag – six books. I hadn’t read a book – cover to cover – for several years. The only exception being textbooks. I began doubting myself. Would I be able to read through even one book, leave alone six? I picked one up and started reading the first paragraph. I felt uneasy. I couldn’t comprehend it. I read it again. I heard the train approaching the platform, and shut the book.
At home, I lined up the books, alongside the other things, I was to pack into the suitcase. There is something about a book, which has been read by a friend, which has a worn out cover, and whose pages are yellow. After pacing up and down a few times, I picked one up. Just a few pages…
A little while later, I looked up at the clock. It was well past dinner time. Everyone had finished eating, and the packing up, for the journey, had commenced.
Time had flown by, and just like that, I had given myself up to a fictitious world. My surroundings changed, I left reality behind. The repeated calls for dinner, had fallen on deaf ears. I was blissfully unaware of the mounting anxiety around the house, as everyone was packing up their suitcases. I just read.
I do not recall ever sitting and reading, without falling asleep. I had doubted my ability to read. And now, I was devouring a book like a ravenous beast.
Before I knew it, I’d finished three-quarters of the book, and nothing, but the realisation that there were only a few hours left for our departure, could part me from the book! I packed the books in, and couldn’t wait to finish reading my newly acquired books.