By Lipi Mehta:
I was 7 years old when I got glasses and my mother was strangely happy. “She reads so much in the dark,” she told my relatives, clicking her tongue in dismay though knowing secretly that she did the same when she was my age. I would read under the blanket, aided by the fading light from my father’s Nokia cellphone, turning the pages silently so that my parents wouldn’t wake up and say, “Enough now.”
Books taught me about family, relationships, heartbreak. They taught me about sex and the difference between a tampon and a sanitary pad (Princess Diaries, in case you’re wondering). They taught me about loneliness, fear and friendship, but more than anything, they taught me about the importance of reading. If you read, you are, they told me. The day the first ‘real’ bookstore opened in my hometown Rajkot, we celebrated at home (with mawa cake). We went to Brainstorm (that’s what it was called) and I was amazed — they housed Judy Blume and Carolyn Keene and Jacqueline Wilson and Meg Cabot! I could spend 20 minutes there and there were still more books left to go through! This was a real treat for someone who had to make repeated trips four hours away, to a Crossword in Ahmedabad, the nearest bookstore that had books in English.
I carried most of my unread books with me when I went to boarding school, at age 15. It was here that I met people from across the country, many of whom shared my love for reading. The school library smelled of wood and old pages and I spent hours there. I started dating someone who didn’t share my love for reading, but understood it, and it was then that I realised how intrinsic a part of my personality reading was. I didn’t mind being labelled as ‘that girl who reads’. I wore the label with pride. When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was in stores, my mom couriered a copy to me in school and I was ecstatic. A friend and I were caught reading it in Physics class and our teacher asked us to either continue reading outside (as ‘punishment’) or stay in class. We walked out silently. He followed us to tell us, “You did the right thing.” I’ll never forget him just for saying that.
As I graduated from school and moved to bigger cities like Pune and Bombay, my books travelled along. One bag for clothes, a bigger one for books, I’d joke. A close friend started reading after she borrowed a few books from me and one day, she said, “I have missed out on 19 years of my life when I could have been a reader all along.” I was almost emotional. Even dusting my books and bookshelf used to be an ‘event’ for me, probably the closest I’ve ever felt to myself.
But then, something changed. My parents bought me a laptop. Trust me, it was the best decision ever, something my living depends on today. But with that, things started changing. And as work piled up and I grew up, reading started feeling strenuous. I preferred being online so much more — there was always something happening there. I couldn’t take the stillness and calm that came with books, it became almost stressful for me to not look at my phone for a full 30 minutes. “10 pages a day,” I told myself but I don’t remember the last time I picked up a book.
I do believe that I can get back to it, I just never thought I’d have to really put in effort just to read a book! The label of ‘that girl who reads’ still sticks on but it’s one that I’m fearful of today, it’s one that burdens me. I still carry a book with me in my bag, I still hoard books and talk about them often, it’s just that I don’t read. On the first day of 2013, ’14 and ’15, I read a book in one day, sort of as a personal challenge. Now, I am trying to move past the 60-page mark on an old book. I don’t know how much reading I’ll get done this year, but I hope…
This article was originally published here.