(Has anyone else hidden books between knee and desk and read on, while the teacher continues to obliviously teach what must have been important lessons?)
On one such memorable occasion, my Arabic language teacher confiscated an omnibus copy of Mallory Towers from me. I suspect it was my heartfelt sighs that gave me away, as I read and wished to have been in a similar boarding school. (I still remember one chapter about a prank the girls play with a kind of chewing gum that gives off huge bubbles. They stick it on the ceiling during a class by a hated teacher. Which student wouldn’t prefer to read such things over dull and dry lessons?)
I ended up in the Supervisor’s office, a place more feared than even the Principal’s office. Because the Girls’ Supervisor of that time was the terrifying Mrs. Brendish, who, to our young minds, was a combination of Medusa and Hitler. With none of their weaknesses.
I don’t recall much of that afternoon in her office, only that it involved many apologies to the Arabic language teacher and much pleading that it would never happen again. It wasn’t just myself I was pleading for, the book belonged to my friend, who’d watched in horror as her book had been snatched up by the teacher with the threat that it would never be returned to me.
It all blew over, of course. Eventually.
But one of the questions I was asked that day by both teachers, was why it was so vitally important that I continue reading even during class. ‘Read at home,’ they said. ‘Who’s stopping you?’
And I was never able to explain to them how unbearable it was, to start a book, and then have to put it aside for such trivial things as lessons. Just as my teachers couldn’t understand why I wanted to continue with my book even during class, I couldn’t quite comprehend the idea that someone could voluntarily put aside a book they wanted to read once they had opened it and started reading. It seemed a physical impossibility to me.
I remember another time (years later, in a different school) when a friend and I were making a list of ‘handsome hunks’. (Yes, during class. I was incorrigible.) The list included such one time heart throbs like Akshay Kumar, Sean Micheals, Shah Rukh Khan, Tom Cruise…and Micheal McAllerly.
I don’t recall who wrote down the name, her or me, but once we’d written it down, we spent a good half an hour trying to remember which movie or TV show we’d seen featuring our mysterious Mike. It took us a day and a half to finally make the connection – Micheal McAllerly was a character from the Sweet Valley University series of books – specifically, Jessica’s once husband, if you really want to know.
What astounded and amused both of us was the crystal clear mental image we’d both had of Mike – short blonde hair, chiseled physique, and the ‘rugged good looks’ that romance writers always seem to be going on about. The author’s words had created such a strong idea of him that we had both been prepared to swear that such a person truly existed.
(Our bad memory stems from the fact that as a whole, the readers of the class were making their way through a classmate’s collection of Sydney Sheldon novels, while a smaller subset of the group simultaneously read the few SVU books we had pooled together. And this was in between actually trying to learn lessons and pass our monthly exams.)
It sounds crazy, but I couldn’t – and still can’t – help myself. I love books. Perhaps a little too much.
So when it was brought to my attention that there was no International Authors’ Day, it was incomprehensible to me. When we can have an International Handwashing Day, it doesn’t make sense for the world not to honour the people who bring us the written word.
“Because books matter.”
I’ve walked with the Fellowship, fought against the White Queen, cried with Anne Shirley, and experienced the vicarious thrill of seeing Judy Abbot finally meet her Daddy Long Legs. I’ve been scared out of my mind by King and Koontz in the middle of the night, wishing I could just stop reading, but unable to keep from turning the pages. I’ve been deeply disturbed by the mirror held up to the human race by books like Maus, and I’ve cried ‘Viva La Revolucion!’ – even if only in my mind – when I was reading Persepolis. I’ve laughed with glee in the middle of the night when two characters who were right for each other finally give into their love (*cough* Remus/Tonks *cough*) and I’ve chuckled like a loon in public when reading Terry Pratchett, making others edge away from me.
I’ve read so much and from such a variety of authors and genres, that now it’s all started to run together. Terry Pratchett, Dean Koontz, R.L. Stine, Madame Orzcy, Ray Bradbury, J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, Phillip Pullman, Robert Ludlum, Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie, P.G Wodehouse, Christopher Pike – and a hundred others – all their words rattle around inside my head.
And that’s why I write, too. I write because I can’t keep the words in me; I’ve read so many of them over the years that they’re starting to spill out of me willy-nilly, taking on lives and forms of their own. I may never be as good as the writers I’ve come to admire, but by now, reading and writing has become such a part of me that I can’t stop.
Eventually, I hope to become the kind of writer who inspires and touches her readers, like I’ve been touched and moved by the words of authors and creators both of my time and before it. I want to ignite a fire in others’ minds with my words.
And in the best of cases, they stay with you your whole life, inspiring you to take risks and be heroes for yourselves and others around you.
That’s why books matter.
[music| Zindagi Gulzar Hain (Title track): Ali Zafar, Zindagi Gulzar Hain OST]
This post is for a Blog Hop conducted by Debdatta of b00kr3vi3s fame, for International Authors’ Day. Debdatta, along with many other bloggers, reviewers, readers, and writers, is celebrating International Authors’ Day on the 18th of July. You can click on the link below to get a list of (and links to) all the participating blogs.