I was not an early reader. Between homework, eating, sleeping and playing, where was the time to pick up a book? I was amazed when my little brother started reading Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, and the like. As if in a trance, he would be absorbed in that world of words for hours together. Naturally, I wondered what was so compelling about reading.
To gain some insight, I picked up a book from his collection – Enid Blyton’s The Castle of Adventure. Although I won’t be able to recall the details of the story, I do remember the adrenaline rush I felt while solving mysteries in that dilapidated castle. I don’t know how and when I morphed from a reader to a character in the story – and for how long I had been exploring. In psychological terms, I was in a flow, which is a mental state where a person totally immerses himself, herself or themselves in some activity.
After an immensely satisfying first experience, I dived further in. As the reader in me grew, I realised that books offer a lot more than just momentary escape. They quietly draw you in, take you on a psychological adventure, and leave you yearning for more. The characters become friends you relate to and learn from. Sometimes they offer clarity, sometimes closure, and some other times the courage to challenge flawed societal norms. In the process, you lose some, mould some and discover some entirely new parts of your own self.
Also read: Why I Read
I resonated with Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird when she said, “I was more at home in my father’s world,” and wondered if she would ever drift into the gender stereotype she deeply disliked. Or, would she, like her father, Atticus, steadily fight for what she considered right? In a world that mocks mockingbirds, how do people like Atticus thrive?
As our acquaintance transcended to friendship, I started paying more visits to their home – the library. Little did I know that this bond would lead me towards another beautiful bond.
We met in the library. Two book lovers, sitting diagonally across a wooden table, absorbed in our respective world of words. Occasionally, I gazed at his book, at him, silently, secretly. As our eyes met, I froze at the thought of being caught. He smiled, as if acknowledging the catch, and broke the ice.
Somewhere between reflections of words stitched together into stories, we connected. We marvelled at the power of an ad hoc book club that served as a saviour and a refuge during the World War II. When a group of residents were caught breaking a curfew during German occupation of Guernsey, they covered it up with an ad hoc book club. A place where they were so absorbed in a book that they lost the track of time. The officer in charge, smiled and let them free. The club – the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, created as an ad hoc cover, ended up becoming a hub of passionate discussions of written tales. In a town suffocated by the war, the book club offered a momentary refuge, a private freedom.
Our connection strengthened, and he became as dear as my most beloved books. The books I frequently go back to, the books that gently infuse the strength to pull together my shattered self and look towards the road ahead. It was amazing to see him metamorphose from a frequent whiner to an occasional therapist with a ready dose of brilliant humour, whenever I needed. He was there, always, until he was not.
One day, he left. Forever. No warnings, no goodbyes. A sudden end of a beautiful bond.
I shattered, into more pieces than ever before. And there was no one to help me pick them up. Gradually, I learnt, only half-heartedly, to fill the silence of his voice with memories of our shared times. And, with more books.
Closure came while reading Tuesdays with Morrie. I finally acknowledged the well-known fact that there is no escape from fate, only that he left too soon. Reflecting on Morrie’s statement, “Death ends a life, not a relationship”, I realised that although he’s gone, in the times and the tales we shared, our bond would continue to live on.
Sapna Chhabra is a postdoctoral researcher in biology. When not in the lab, she could be found scribbling her thoughts on a piece of paper
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