“Verbrennung in Berlin”, Sigmund Freud wrote in his diary on May 11, 1933. Which means, “It is burning in Berlin”. But also, “I am burning in Berlin”. This echoes Heinrich Heine’s saying, “Where they burn books, they burn people”.
Today, as the world is still on fire, my wooden shelves strain under the weight of double-parked, triple-stacked books that threaten to overspill. In those soft, mushy pages, I come across orphaned bits of myself, evoked with rare crispness and tenacity. Ideas that normally fracture in my clumsy fingers when I try to take hold of them, are here, perfectly preserved.
We are a bunch of handle-with-care parcels of our own time. And literature allows us to step back and learn about life on Earth, from the ones who walked the conveyor belt before us.
With our optical instruments in hand, we get to learn about that rustic family-life in Vietnam, about being a teenager in Florida, about school in Syria, love in Istanbul, and guilt in Korea.
We may not take part in Russia’s struggle with Napoleon, but we can trust Tolstoy when he says there’s always a way back to life through love, if only we will allow ourselves to experience it. We may not see our father defend a black man in an unwinnable trial, but we can appreciate the importance of standing up for what we believe in, as Atticus Finch did.
The world is still on fire. But in those wrinkled pages, tattered covers, and unglued spines, we get to empathise with strange, odd, peculiar characters, despite our differences.
Raise readers. Because the world today needs empathy, now more than ever.
Aishwarya Roy is a Biotechnology post-graduate. The engineer in her tries to solve life-problems, and the artist in her writes to make herself feel things.