I have a confession to make. I haven’t read one book since the past eight months. It doesn’t mean I didn’t try to, it’s just that my attention span has gotten shorter and shorter to the point where even the first pages of some of the most well known classics have made me give up.
This is not me. I’ve read Othello and A Tale of Two Cities (both unabridged) when I was in the 7th grade, cover to cover. Even though I had found them mind numbingly boring then and my opinions haven’t changed much now, I did finish reading them!
In order to try and pick up my only hobby again, I went to a fancy bookstore. I thought the bright yet muted lighting, Kenny G’s saxophone, not to mention the sight of shelves and shelves of titles waiting to be perused would trick me into finally delving into the worlds I so badly wanted to escape to. I’d decided to start light, so I picked up a nice book of short stories by Ruskin Bond, knowing that the familiar world of Dehra and the antics of the author’s unusual pets would keep me glued.
I read on, sitting in the wonderful bookstore which indeed is a bliss for bookworms, delightfully engrossed in reading about Nakoo the Crocodile, when a tap on my shoulder interrupted me. A lady in her sixties introduced herself and asked if I would be willing to help her understand her smartphone. I readily agreed because I’m helpful that way. As I answered all her little questions about how much data a five minute video consumes and how to delete unwanted photos from WhatsApp, I couldn’t help but wonder as to why a well dressed, well educated lady would ask a stranger in a bookstore for help when she obviously had a close knit family she could turn to. (I know this because she had come to the store with her teenaged grandkids). I casually mentioned that surely her grandchildren must be smart enough to know all these things. She said they did, but the only time they talk to her is when they want to play games on her phone, and her own children have no time to spare from their super busy lives to answer their mother’s queries.
This really made me feel awful. Not the fact that the people in her family had no time for her, but the fact that she was earnestly justifying their behaviour. Her NRI son had apparently told her to not watch any videos on her phone at all, because he was the one footing her phone bill and he didn’t want it to increase in case his own mother went on a video watching spree. She was afraid to such an extent that she refused to download a 2 MB video.
After answering all her questions and exchanging numbers, we promised to keep in touch. She thanked me and left, sweetly asking me to come over to her place anytime to savour her home cooked food.
I tried to get back to my book, thinking if I had ever taken anyone for granted to that extent, when my train of thought reminded me of my own grandmother, who passed away three years ago.
I remember teaching her how to use a digital diary, and the joy on her face when she successfully saved a contact was indescribable. I later taught her how to write an email. She used to write it down on paper and then patiently type it out. It was cute to see her wait for the reply to arrive. Aaji was incidentally the first person to realise that I liked to read. The first real praise that I’d gotten out of her was when I’d finished reading Jane Eyre, my first novel ever. She would tell anybody who’d listen that her little fourth grader had devoured a classic.
That book had catapulted me into the world of literature, and I haven’t looked back since.
This memory brought me back to the present, to the book at hand. I couldn’t believe that I’d almost given up on this fine habit because Netflix was more appealing.
With a newfound resolve thanks to the sweet stranger, I made two promises to myself: I would be more aware about the needs and well being of my loved ones, and would plunge headfirst into the worlds of wordsmiths; knowing that I would come out richer and worthier of the literary treasures that are waiting to be found.