Once upon a time, there lived a little girl…

Tall and lanky… Her hair, the colour of ginger…

And she fell hopelessly in love…

With words…

It is that time of the year when the internet is awash with reading lists of the affluent and the scholarly, referred and shared to viral proportions. Yet, the jungle would indeed be rather monotonous, if only the peacocks were to flaunt their plumage and only the cuckoos decided to sing. So, I thought I’d put in my two pennies worth, to add to this annual cacophony.

I stay clear of ‘5 days to success’ type of books as I firmly believe that ‘success’ entails different things to different people. For some it is amassing huge wealth, for some, it is heading a business empire, for some, it’s losing oneself in service. Success to me certainly involves proximity to nature and the luxury of time to curl up with words, reading, writing or simply cradling them with my soul.

Here is my pick of the best 4 books I have had a chance to read in 2017.

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Prose as beautiful as poetry; yet barbed and searing. Set in Germany during the Third Reich period, this story is narrated by none other than Death. I fell in love with the lead character Liesel who is fascinated by the power of words. It is, in fact, she who inspired me to write this post. The Book Thief is that kind of a book which will render you incapable of opening a new one for several days. Instead, your heart craves to linger longer with the characters who are now your closest friends. You are sure to miss Hans, Rudy, the accordion and their endearing personas for a very long time to come.
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – Non-fiction, guaranteed to invoke a survivor guilt feeling that such a brilliant mind was snatched away too soon. In the end, it is with the epilogue penned by Lucy, Dr Kalanithi’s wife, that your molten heart will finally break free through eyes and burn your cheeks.
  • Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi – A political thriller, and an eyeopener to someone who is naïve about Indian politics, merely a reaffirmation of own convictions to others. To put the message of the book in my own words: “All politics is drama. And there are no saints on stage!”.
  • The girl on the train by Paula Hawkins – A story weaved by the drunken delusions and misconceptions of the protagonist Rachel. A page-turner. The characters are raw and despicable; yet hurting and so real.

 

But wait, what’s with the girl mentioned in the title?

Well, here it goes… Once upon a time, there lived a little girl… Quiet and shy… Restless and wild… One day she received a gift…

She was soon to board a long-distance train from the southern tip of India to its capital territory, Delhi, in the North. It was going to be a two-day journey travelling the length of India with nothing much to do. Her parents knowing the girl well were anxious to safeguard their inner peace during the lengthy journey. It was an era before tablets and smartphones sieged childhood. The obvious choice of a book as the remedy for the forthcoming crisis resulted in a short stop at the Higginbothams bookstore right by the entrance to the railway platform. That’s how the girl, who had read only comics and magazines until then, received her first book. She must have been a little over 11 and it should be mentioned at this point that she didn’t feel any great sense of joy or triumph on holding the book… her own book… for the first time. The sirens bellowed with zest as the train pulled away with the girl, her family and the unread book. Swaying palms, green fields and throbbing rivers hurried past the girl in humdrum succession, hour after hour. That’s the exact moment when the girl fancied a change of scene. Gingerly she picked up the book and held it in her hands, gently flipping it around and feeling its glossy texture with her thin fingers. She started to read the summary on the back cover. Many of the words escaped her; Yet she persisted, trying to memorize them and guess their meaning. As the train gathered speed, so did her reading prowess. Absorbed by the story, hooked by the lure of the alluring words, hours vaporized, rendering food, sleep and the window scenes bland. Two days later, when she set her foot on to the Delhi platform, the book had become her most treasured possession.

Several weeks later, on her return back home, she craved nothing but books. She was lucky to be blessed with a new source. A retired ex- Airforce gentleman who now worked as a librarian and whom everyone called ‘Uncle’ would now bring her books each day after work. The girl would stand impatiently by her gateway with the stars powdering down on the magenta Bougainvillea blooms, awaiting yet another cherished reading. The books arrived in quick succession, and much to her mother’s alarm, the reading time crept up and annihilated sleep one hour at a time. Rules were prompt to be passed that books will now arrive only on the weekends. In a way, this pleasurable anticipation only added to the charm of reading; making the craving stronger and the rapture of reading more enticing. This ritual continued for years and to her mother’s dismay, the girl decided to spend a good half of her 10th grade board exam study holidays with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, reading his complete collection back to back, dreaming and sometimes waking up hearing the low whistle of the ‘Speckled Band’ or having visions of the luminous ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, in the silence of the night. She had just gained her first hero.

The library books were supplemented by visits to Balan’s circulating bookstall on the old Link Road, a tiny second-hand bookstore stacked with serpentine columns of well-thumbed books. The proprietor, a thick bespectacled elderly gentleman with a quiet demeanour often roused the girl’s envy with the sheer treasure he was blessed to handle. Each vacation, piles of books stacked into the boot, the old car will drive a girl sparkling with anticipation and a father reassured of some peaceful days ahead.

Decades later, as the girl types these words with the rain lashing the window panes, her two little munchkins are fast asleep with half-read books carefully tucked beneath their pillows, a smug little smile plastered on their delicate lips. A smile, that can be brought about only by the companionship of a good book. The string of words that offered the little boys’ company, leap up from those well-thumbed pages to embrace the mother’s soul. Yes! … the gift… the gift of words… The gift has proliferated and has been delicately passed down… sans force… sans fanfare… The mother sighs, grateful, content… In the event of any adversity that future is likely to summon, their solace lies close at hand… Cheer, after all, is only a book away…

5 thoughts on “The Girl Who Fell In Love With Words

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