Ever since my country has been locked down due to the threatening nature of the wildly spreading COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, people in my country are facing immense difficulties to survive. It’d be unfair to say that it’s tremendously challenging for them to stay indoors for many of them, millions of them actually, don’t even have a roof over their head, and they don’t have the means to meet daily needs.
My country is in utter chaos. However, I am one of those who are privileged. (And we must recognize our privileges first, then we can philosophize and recommend people to read.) I have a room of my own and I’m surviving by having books by my side. And I would want to talk about this today: reading in the time of coronavirus.
I don’t feel like writing ever about topical things, but COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact a large part of the population and I don’t think it’s topical anymore. Nor was Cholera, nor was Influenza Flu; each and everything is still remembered. Which I learnt reading a lot of literature written during the past pandemics. It becomes extremely crucial to address what does it mean to be alive and fighting all the anxieties that loom over our heads during such crises. The world economy has come to a sudden halt, people are dying like flies, like dried up leaves lay scattered on the road triggered a mild wind, doctors are fighting from the front and are braving it day and night while we sit in our homes waiting for it to end. It’s bad, and can become worst; but it’s important that we endure and go on.
All of you must be finding it difficult to cope up with the situation. You may have found or invented your own means to tackle the situation. I read to help myself, I have my books with me. And that’s precisely what I’m hanging onto in order to brave my anxieties. I stay locked up in my room not even going for a walk upstairs, on the terrace, and not even going to the balcony to check if the sky is either a gray, blue and orange-colored palette or it feels lonely when it’s not visited by humankind. It’s strange, but I have my own thing. I don’t want to romanticize it much by indulging in what has changed and what hasn’t. It’s just fine to be home, and somehow I think it’s normal for bibliophiles and readers, and it has always been. We’ve always wanted to be left alone with our books, isn’t it? For some, it maybe the case that they’d want to be alone or anonymous in a crowd; however, when one comes to stay with oneself that’s when one realizes if one knew oneself ever or not.
Facing your doubts and anxieties in your own room with nothing but books, a laptop and a stream of thoughts are a few things that you must do during this pandemic, if you’re privileged enough.
How and When I Started Reading
Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t begin reading at a very young age. My family members could no longer brave their school education after tenth grade and dropped out, and most women haven’t been to school either. So there is no attachment and intimacy with education, reading or books.
We’re the first generation to enter into college. And I’m the singleton reader in my family, even extended one. Whenever my family sees me coming with a bunch of books after office, they ridicule me in a way you can’t imagine. My grandmother says I’ve lost it. My mother is baffled and inquires me every time: “Why there’s a need to read?” Others don’t even feel it’s important to have a conversation with me about this habit. I don’t mind anything at all, I’m fortunate I’m reading and I’m having a time of my life. However, I do feel that books chose me a bit late, but it’s better late than never.
I began reading in 2015 (in second year of my college). I remember buying The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand out of sheer peer pressure as everyone was buying something or the other from the Flipkart sale that time. And I remember reading The Kite Runner and I didn’t know that I was weeping; my sister saw me weeping and asked if I’m all right and I didn’t even know what to say to her. This invisible conversation with books soon became an inseparable part of my life, this reading of other lives.
It’s sort of a companionship with books, and I don’t think that anything will separate us apart until one of us dies. And that one will be me, as books are here to stay because they’re not exclusively there for me to navigate this world. Books are for everyone. They’re everyone’s loyal friends, as they get to choose you and not the other way. You’re stupid if you think you can choose them. They come to you willingly and only when they’re convinced of the fact that you’ll be able to nurture and nourish this relationship.
I appreciate this bond and as a gesture I cover each and every book of mine with a transparent dust jacket, and I don’t let anyone damage even a subatomic particle of my books.
What I Read During the (Ongoing) Quarantine Mode
It’s books that are able to help me be sane all this while. And I have cherished reading some great works during this (ongoing) lockdown. So far I’ve read the following:
- So Now You Know: Growing Up Gay in India by Vivek Tejuja
- The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay
- Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
- India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha
- Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
Each one of the above works made me a different person. Each one of them has challenged the conventional form of writing, has taken up a different subject, given it a different treatment and has told the story in a way that they wanted to narrate.
I’ve read tens of articles, too, all from Electric Literature, LitHub, The Paris Review, Brain Pickings, Harvard Business Review, etc. on a variety of subjects. I’ve made a list of books that I will be shopping once the lockdown is done with, too. I am engaging with myself and maintaining peace with myself throughout this period, only because I’ve my books with me.
This is my own way to cope up with this, and reading and books help me survive. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself and I wish you all a very happy World Book (and Copyright) Day.