My best friend thinks I am out of touch with the things I love. I like to think I have ADHD. Which is why I am unable to stick to doing one thing for more than 5 minutes. Like reading. For all those who do not know (which I know for a fact is most of you), I used to be what is commonly known as a bookworm. The squiggly annoying creature who lives in the very apple you have your eye on and are thinking of having for breakfast. Yeah, the biggest, juiciest, reddest, m*****f***** in the fruit basket on yonder table. Who has a knack for ruining your jolly mood and big dreams.
I happen to do it by pointing out, in my flat sarcastic tone of voice, a nerdy theoretical reason for the impending crash and burn. This particular quality is all that is left with me from my bookworm days. So naturally I tend to make smug use of it on my best mate – Wafa. Wafa the Jafa. ( Jafa is an Urdu word meaning good deed. I think. As I have been able to gather from my mother’s frequent use of it. When she is reminding me to deliver ‘jafa’ to people around me). As is obvious now, it is Wafa who is more in touch with her ‘jafa’ side. Hence the nickname. I just came up with it. I hope she rolls her eyes at it. That is the moment I live for. It gives me an odd sense of satisfaction to have annoyed her enough to get that eye roll. It lets me know my joke was beautifully, appropriately lame.
So back to my story of the bookworm of days past. When I was around 10 years old (I am guessing), my cousin lent me a cardboard carton filled to the brim with books. Mostly by Enid Blyton. Those were the days, I tell you. Read one book. Then got another out. Then another. Then another. The best part was that there were so many. I was a fast reader. So there was not the problem of being left with nothing because I had finished one book too fast. There was always another.
Reading was the best. When I was reading the world around me stopped existing. Which was fine by me. It helped me mind my own business. When I had finished those books, I re-read them. Especially Malory Towers series and St. Clare’s. They were about boarding school. English boarding schools, to be precise. They were all about personal growth and living honorably. Those were the days I got my sense of ideals down. For me that was the way to live. I think children these days should be made to read those books. Instead of being exposed to the Bollywood nonsense you see everywhere. Which in itself is a recipe for disaster. It gives you all the wrong information about the way to go about life.
After that, it was Harry Potter. When I started reading Harry Potter, I became obsessed. Harry Potter books were what I wanted on birthdays. I had no time for any presents other than books. So my cousins and aunts and uncles started getting me books as presents. Before I knew it, I had the whole Harry Potter collection. Which I guarded like an angry mother hen guards her chicks. And when my friends wanted to borrow my books, I made it very clear that the ugly line on the spine of the book cover should not be made by opening it too much.
As I grew older, I started going to Liberty Books to buy my own books. And borrowing from my cousin who herself reads a lot. Artemis Fowl, Goosebumps, Fear Street, the Inheritance cycle, Isabel Allende, Meg Cabot – I had read them all.
The purpose of my existence revolved around getting my hands on as many books as I could. But eventually there came a time when buying books became a nuisance. They were too expensive. Liberty Books is a criminally expensive piece of heaven. Especially for someone like me who got through a big fat novel in two days.
There always needed to be more book-buying done. And I did not really know much about getting books from old bookstores. My mother introduced me to that later. But since the old book store was a bit far from my place and both my parents worked and were tired by the time they came back in the evening, I started to make sure I wasn’t asking them to make special time and effort for me just so I could get more books. I was in my teens then. And I used to think before doing or asking for anything, because I didn’t want to bother my parents in the least. I did not like to think that I was inconveniencing them for my own personal needs. Since they worked hard all day.
So I used to just roam around the house in my free time with nothing to do. Because all I wanted to do was read and read and read, and always just have one book after another. My mother used to have a shelf full of romance novels. Of the Judith McNaught and Jude Deveraux variety. Off limits, of course. She used to get those when we made occasional trips to the old book store. Which has more of these sorts of books rather than the good literature variety. So I always came away with three or four books, while she had a whole big pile.
One day when I was an older teen whining to my mother about not having anything to read, she told me to check out one of her books. She said a couple of them were good reads. Like Sidney Sheldon. Bingo. With my raging hormones, I now had permission to have a look at the books with the explicit cover illustrations… in addition to Sidney Sheldon. She did not specify. You know how it is. When you are a teenager, all you wonder about are the mysteries surrounding sexual activity. I am sure you all know the feeling. So, on that fateful day, I eagerly started reading one of those books.
In the beginning it was entertaining. It was new. It was exciting. I felt grown up. But as I read a few more books, I realized what a load of nonsense it all was. It actually put me off reading a bit. I mean, how many sexual descriptions can you read before getting bored of all of it? It was a disaster. I now understand why my mother bought them. They are so unrealistically random and typical that reading them does not require too much concentration or seriousness. Basically you do not need too much brain juice to get through them. They serve as a lighthearted break after a long, tiring day.
But there is also another side to this madness. Even though you despise them, you grow accustomed to them and then it is difficult to go back to reading good literature. So now I was stuck with looking for more of such books without really enjoying the read. And slowly I got so bored of them that I just gave up reading altogether. I did not know of any good literature to look out for since I was so cut off from it all. Even at book stores I wasn’t sure what to look for or what to buy. And whether it was worth investing in or not. So I slowly just shut out the whole reading business.
I am 21 years old now, and if there is something I have learnt, it is that it’s all about habit. Our habits can make us or break us. I had gotten out of the habit of reading. And now I can’t even get through one page of a book without losing my concentration and mentally making a run for it. I got into the habit of getting bored and whining about getting bored. And the thing is, getting bored is not something that happens to you. It is something you do to yourself. I know because I have to be the most bored person on the planet. And I suppose I did it to myself in a way.
And so, even though I no longer love reading like I used to, I know that it is one thing you should never ever give up. Because reading shapes your entire being and outlook on life. It gives you a depth and a vision. It is like food for the brain. The brain needs good food put into it. Otherwise it becomes a malnourished brain. And frankly that is the most useless thing to have. Any bookworm knows that. Even a non-bookworm like Wafa the Jafa.
So if you have given up reading like me, I suggest you take it back up. And supply your children with Malory Towers instead of ‘Sheila ki Jawani,’ and then applauding their contemptible imitations of it. It will save you a lot of distress later (public service message).
P.S. my mother just read this piece and she supplied some vital information about it. It is sort of embarrassing. But I think it is necessary I tell you in order to prevent the spread of misconception.
Jafa actually means bad deeds towards someone. And what my mom used to say was actually a proverb which went like this : Jafa karo ge to Jafa mile gi.
So I guess wafa cannot be wafa the jafa anymore. But she is a loyal friend. So I think wafa the wafa is more apt. (wafa means loyalty). Anyway.
Parodon my faulty memory and wild guesses.