Why I Read

In 2017, I helped a colleague and friend finish his first ever novel – Catch 22, a novel I myself had never read. I constantly kept on pestering- what’s the update on the book? How many pages did you read today? Sometimes he told me how exciting it was to read that particular chapter. And it was amazing, but it wasn’t easy. After months, he finally finished the book and called it an achievement. I’m glad I played a small part by helping him start his reading journey, by recommending a book, which turned out to be a little difficult to be suggested as a starter. A good deed accomplished in the year gone by.

I discovered reading very early in life. My family is a collection of massive bookworms. My mother introduced me to Chinese literature and my father to Russian. They are both avid book readers and we all hope to set up our tiny little library someday. I love visiting bookstores as much as people love dropping by in cafes, and when I see children in book stores, it makes me extremely happy.

I vividly remember a day from my school library. Our librarian had awarded points to classes that borrowed the most number of books and pasted the results on the green notice board just outside the library. I might have been in grade 8 or 9. I checked to see where my class stood. And I stood there, heartbroken. The class that borrowed most of the books were grade 4 and 5.  The points got smaller and smaller as the grades increased in number. Don’t ask me what my class secured. I don’t remember to be honest. But it was low enough to make me sad. One plausible explanation might be the proximity of the famous/infamous grade 10 examination. As students approach higher grades much of their focus goes into studying course materials. This approach might not necessarily be wrong, but it reflects a behavior, a trend that as we get older, we may begin to read very little. Priorities bigger than grade 10 examinations are bound to pop up and catch us unguarded. This might of course not be true for everyone. But the important aspect here is that if given access and opportunity, children read and they discover the power of books. Why should it be any different for grown ups, especially when we have access to so much more?

The school library had always been my best resource place. I remember how poorly I read when I was in grade 11 and 12, when my new school barely had anything else but textbooks. It didn’t feel like I was losing anything then, but when I rediscovered another library in university, I realized how I missed the magic of books and how I wish I could go back and reutilize that lost time.

One of my favorite places in my university was the library. It was a beautiful place, had ample sunlight. But most importantly it was quiet and sadly very few student visited it, and perhaps ironically that was the reason I loved it. It was never crowded. This takes me back to my school and the terrifying statistics of borrowing books our school librarian had discovered and pasted on the green notice board.

But why read? Why waste that precious moment digging up words, instead of gold?

There internet is filled with wonderful reasons on why to read, from scientific to aesthetic. Here are mine.

A book is a conversation, a conversation that is well planned and prepared with determination and dedicated on the part of the writer. I think it’s a beautiful conversation. It’s not one way as you might think. A book is a two way conversation. It is like conversing with a friend, a connection that words fail to describe. It is a feeling, like that when you sit down with a friend, new or old, in a cafe with a latte and apple pie placed in front of you. It is a moment, one that is different with each friend. And you speak too, as you feel new and old emotions, discover and rediscover old and new ideas. Indeed, it is a two way conversation.

A book is also an escape, into the imaginable and the unfathomable. It is a reality and a lie. But it is beautiful just the same. It is time enclosed carefully into words by its creator. In other words, it is magic. There is no reason why you should deny yourself of this magic that is so readily available.

But a book is also labor put into time. It is difficult, demands patience and sometimes may leave you fuming at the end. A conversation with a friend might go any way. But you’d still go and meet a friend. Because that’s what we do! Yes, that’s what we do.

That’s exactly how a book is like, a friend.

In Neil Gaiman’s words, “You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”

But if you haven’t started reading yet, do not worry and begin, or as JK Rowling says, “If you do not like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” And the only way to find it, is to find it!

It’s great to know that my friend who just began reading in 2017, with a lot of trouble, has now bought two new books. You just need a bit of the magic dust, and the rest as they say is history!

I hope you find yours very soon.

Happy World Book Day 2018!

Cheers!
Alfa

P.S. The image above is my little attempt at virtual drawing some time back, also from 2017.

The Magic Spell To Conversations

It pains me to know that while I was ardently taught the art of oration for years and years in school and university, the art of conversation was left way behind. Perhaps it was the omnipresence of the action, the idea that we conversed every day that made it too mundane to be considered a skill to be taught or most importantly a skill that can be learnt. Back in school I looked longingly at my friends who got on the podium to deliver magnificent speeches and today I longingly look at the ones who outmaneuver themselves in the art of conversing.

But maybe all isn’t lost, and for the ones who are a little awkward at conversations like myself, there’s still hope.

For me the most daunting task of starting a conversation is the the ice breaker.

What do I say?

“Hi, I’m Alfa. And I am fond of cats!”

Great.

Or maybe not so great. What if the other person is allergic to cats! or even worse what if a cat attacked her/his favorite pet mouse a long long time ago! Ah possibilities!

But if the other person also does love cats, then the conversation might be going somewhere. (Phew, thankfully!).

But well, not all conversations begin that way, and cats are not the second thing I blabber about right after my name. I read it somewhere that a conversation is like making a sandwich. You add an ingredient and then slide it over to the other person, the other then adds something and slides it back to you. As long as the sandwich keeps sliding, the conversation continues.

Leaving sandwiches aside, over the past few months, I have noticed an interesting pattern. And yes it has to do with Harry Potter (I’m known to spread the Harry Potter fandom at work, so well). After getting a little comfortable with people, I usually end up asking, “Have you read/watched Harry Potter?” Sometimes I get asked the same question.

You might have guessed, when the answer is a YES, conversing becomes a lot more easier, just like that. I can somehow take a breath of relief. I know I can add in a little Harry Potter reference to the sandwich to keep it sliding and hopefully the sandwich would come sliding back at me. And more often than not, the sandwich has come sliding back, and then forth.

One time I had to sit down next to a person who I barely knew. I wanted to speak and say more than Hi to settle the awkwardness in the air, but I didn’t know what to say. Out of the blue someone in the side chanted the magic words ‘Harry Potter’ and I immediately asked, ‘Do you like Harry Potter by any chance?’ I was really skeptic to be honest.

‘I’ve watched all the films 5 times,’ was the reply. Totally unexpected. Turns out the other person also liked cats, and we ended up talking about Minereva McGonagall and her transfiguration power. (Spoiler for muggles: McGonagall can transform herself into a cat.)

And just like that a difficult silence turned into an interesting evening of conversations.

Last week I met a few juniors at a program and we sat down after the event for dinner. Being the older one, it was on me to initiate the conversation. I asked them what they liked and three of them said books. Dan Brown was a favorite among them. One was reading Sapiens. We talked about The Da Vinci Code for a while and then I asked about Harry Potter. The girl who was sitting to my left happened to be a big fan. ‘I absolutely love Snape,’ she said. I could sense that she had resented this particular character for a long time before coming to realize his role in the books.

We even had a harmless giggle when we noticed someone in the crowd who we both thought resembled Draco Malfoy (a character from the books). (No harm intended to the person in the crowd!). (I myself was dressed in a long robe, looking like a witch!). The air was already relaxed and I could breathe and continue naturally.

A big chunk of ice breaker had been eased by a literary masterpiece. No wonder they call Harry Potter a work that has touched generations. I am well aware that this does not work all the time. But then again, there’s probably nothing that works all the time.

I have slowly been realizing that these snippets of conversations have been helping me become more confident at initiating and keeping conversations alive. I will eventually have to move out of my comfort zone and into the unknown filled with spontaneity and risk. I hope there will be a day when I will be able to spark a conversation with natural ease even when I do not have magic cues, till then I will have to keep trying to get the magic spell right.

Wingardium Leviosa!

Re-creators of the Magic

I was halfway through Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun when a thought suddenly struck me. Murakami is a master storyteller and I have been awestruck by the scale of how he imagines great patterns in simple lives. His first person narrative is haunting. It feels all too real. But this is not what struck me in this particular moment.

It was his Translator with a capital T.

South of the Border, West of the Sun is translated by Philip Gabriel.

I have been reading translated works for a long time, but surprisingly the idea never struck me before. Some people choose to live as translators, in the shadows of the author so that we may be able to relive the magic of stories that would otherwise have rarely reached us.

And I’d always thought that it is the author’s book. It is, it definitely is. But may be it is not just the author’s book anymore. It is not just Murakami’s words anymore. It also belongs to Gabriel, whose translation takes me as close as possible to what Murakami intended.

To the re-creators of the magic.

Meera Goes to Hogwarts: Chapter Four

Refresh your memory with Chapter One, Two and Three.

It had already been six months since the first time Meera came to realize that she was a witch. She missed home dearly, especially her sister. Hogwarts was sealed with magic so there was no way she could use muggle devises like smart phones. Thanks to her friends Neal and Benny, Meera seemed to be catching up with her classes. Professor Zuck and Rufus had also been giving extra lessons to help her.

An owl flew over to Meera’s table during breakfast.

‘It’s got a letter for you,’ Benny said casually.

‘I haven’t received a single letter since coming here,’ Meera exclaimed. Was it shock or happiness, no one could tell.

‘Then may be its time you do,’ added Neal, putting some tomatoes over his plate.

She detached the letter from the owl’s feet and opened it. It was from Mayna.

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Signs, Meera thought. What kind of signs?

By the time Meera turned up, Benny was running.

‘Bye Meera, late for my extra class!’ she said waving.

Meera did not like how Mayna had behaved with her. She had not uttered a single word about magic, despite being a witch herself. Even when Zuck arrived to get Meera, Mayna refused to say anything that would clear her mind. And now she added the confusion by asking Meera to look out for signs.

Meera stood up and headed towards her dormitory. Mayna’s words troubled her. What was coming ahead? Could she avoid it? She was completely lost in her own world until, she knocked over someone.

‘Oh sorry!’ she said. Meera flushed. It was Li.

Meera had previously been able to thank Li for saving her from the rotten eggs, thanks to Benny’s constant encouragement. But this was not expected. Li’s bag was on the floor with his books spread out. Meera immediately picked them up and handed it over.

‘I’m really sorry,’ she said again.

‘Not a problem at all.’

Meera had already moved a few steps ahead when Li called out.

‘Eh, Meera!’ he said.

She did not know what to do. What did he want anyway?

‘Ah yes,’ she said turning back.

‘Ahh…school’s looking to form a Quidditch team. Professor Zuck told me that you’re quite good at flying. How about you give it a try?’

Meera stood there, frozen for a few seconds.

‘Ah…I’m…n-o-t sure if I can manage to fly.’

‘Really? Professor Zuck was really impressed.’

‘Really?’

Li nodded.

‘I’ll think about it then.’

‘If you’d like to try out, be there at the Quidditch ground tomorrow at 4.’

She nodded and walked out as quickly as she could. Why was Li asking her to play Quidditch, why? Is this a sign? She dissed the thought out of her head. She decided that Mayna was just playing games as always, even when she was not close by.

Meera put the letter under her pillow and carried her books. She could see the sky through one of the little windows beside her bed. The sky was clearer today. May be should could fly, she thought for a moment. After all she had managed to the very first time without much of a problem.

She hurried back to her class where she met Benny.

‘So, Li asked you to try out for the Quidditch team?’ she asked with a glare in her eyes.

How did she know, Meera thought.

‘Don’t be surprised,’ Benny added. ‘Anything that Li does is bound to become news, especially when it involves you. So are you going to go?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve never played Quidditch before.’

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