On Books – And What They Mean To Me

They say a song can take you back instantly to a moment, or a place or even a person. Being an avid music fan myself, I can completely testify to that statement. But for me, it’s not just music. Books also hold sharp and distinguished memories for me. I remember not only the circumstances surrounding me obtaining and then reading a certain book, but, if it’s one of those excellent books you can’t stop thinking about afterwards, I also remember the whirlwind of emotions I experienced while reading them.

Ever since I can remember, reading has been a big part of my life. I guess having both parents not only be passionate readers themselves, but actually have careers related to books and reading will do that to a person. My earliest memories include getting all excited about the storybooks Ammi got for me, the ones with the golden spine and the pretty pictures. This was probably even before I knew how to write, because most of these books have my name written on the inside in my mother’s neat handwriting. She would read to me from the books and I grew up listening to the usual fairytales, and also Dr. Suess’s books, my favorite being “The Cat in the Hat”.

As I grew older, I read through the several entire series of Enid Blyton, and any other books I could get my hands on. I remember I used to visit my school library several days a week, even though we only had a library class once every week. I used to, literally, beg the librarian to let me borrow books on days in which I did not have a library period. Once I got her to agree to that, I moved on to requesting that I borrow more than one book at a time (which was against the rules, for reasons I cannot fathom even till today). “Please, it’s the weekend, I need something to read, please let me borrow this one too!” or “Yes I know I don’t have a library period today, but please won’t you just…” were sentences the librarian had gotten used to hearing from me, with a mixture of amusement and annoyance playing on her face. At one point, after another one of my pleading sessions which ended with her finally giving in, she said to me “Why do you read so much anyway?”. I remember it really pissed me off when she said that, because I felt like she was mocking me, laughing at my intense love for reading. Needless to say, she didn’t make the top ten favorite teachers list of mine!

The books inspired me in real life too. After reading the “Famous Five” series, especially, I was always searching for adventure, hoping a mystery like those in the books would fall into my lap and I would get a chance to try and figure the whole thing out. There was this one time, when I was spending the day at my khala’s, and my cousin Mohsin and I were playing out on the street (after profusely promising not to leave the apartment compound, might I add) that I got a little taste of adventure, however insignificant it may seem. Right behind the apartments where Mohsin lived, there was the huge Safari Park, sprawled out. The official entrance was pretty far away though, and the part of the park behind the apartments was closed off to us by steel bars all along its edge. This part was, also, quite disconnected from the rest of the park. It had huge trees, and overgrown hedges and out-of-control grass all over the place, and it was completely isolated. There was a dusty path snaking through the middle of this forest-like place, and we always used to look through the bars and wish we could go in. On that particular day, as we explored the streets, we discovered that there was a gap between two bars, and we managed to squeeze our way in. As we entered the place, I was already imagining a scenario which was a mixture of “The Secret Garden” and “The Wizard of Oz”. I imagined us coming here everyday and fixing the place up, making it our personal hideaway. The Wizard Of Oz’s yellow brick road made me want to paint the whole winding path yellow, and I wanted to plant seeds which would grow up to become bright green plants with huge, blooming flowers, just like Mary Lennox does in the Secret Garden. Let me tell you, we made great plans that day, as we hid in that deserted part of the park, and each one of them rooted from ideas planted in me by the books I read. (oh, and in case you were wondering, we did not get to actually paint the path or plant any seeds…but it was an enjoyable daydream, and the planning itself gave us enough joy!). So now, whenever I think about those particular books, these memories invariably follow.

Then there was Harry Potter. I was introduced to the magical world of these books by, once again, Ammi, who convinced me to buy the first of the series when I was ten years old. At that time, I was completely unaware of the hype surrounding the books, and at first glance, immensely disliked them. “It’s about a wizard?” I was skeptical because even at that age, the genre of fantasy had never appealed to me. Nevertheless, I ploughed on through the first book at the insistence of my mom, at the end of which I was completely in love. I don’t remember much about reading the second, third and fourth books, which were already out when I started reading (it’s all a whirlwind of turning pages and being getting sucked deeper and deeper into magical world of the books), but I remember acutely, the anticipation and excitement I felt while I waited for the fifth one to come out.

I remember clearly the day it came out. I woke up with the one desire to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible, and I whined enough for my mom to take me to all the nearby bookshops to search for it. Imagine my disappointment when at every shop the book was sold out. We reached Abbu’s office with me in the mother of all bad moods, ready to lash out at him for all the copies of the book being sold out, when I saw it. It stood at the top of his desk, the pirated version with the black-and-white cover and messy print, but it was there nonetheless and I couldn’t wait to start reading. I remember that it was July, which meant that it was monsoon season and it was raining really hard that day. This was insignificant to me, however, apart from the fact that it really slowed down traffic and I was able to read more sitting in the back of the car, at first under the sunlight streaming through the car windows, and eventually with the help of streetlights as our car slowly trudged on through the flooded streets. This image I remember clearly: there was rain splattering on the car from all sides, my parents’ voices from the front were repeatedly asking me not to read in such darkness, and me ignoring everything and turning page after page, taking in the words, oblivious to everything else.

I remember when I got the final book in the series in my hands, how I went early in the morning with Abbu to the bookstore, how I couldn’t believe I had the book in my hands, and how I couldn’t stop grinning whenever I touched the pages, reveling in the fact that I had so many words to read. I remember Meenu Mami being incredulous at my sheer joy, and her saying “I haven’t seen you smile this much for this long, ever!” And I remember how I finished the book the same day, despite the promise I made to myself to take it slow, cherish it as it was the last book. I read late into the night, the entire house sleeping, just me and the words. I remember how drained I felt when I had finished it, like I had been through some emotional event myself, instead of just reading about it.

There’s not much I can say about the experience of reading and the joy it brings, which hasn’t been said before, and said better. All I can say is, the clichés are true. Books can open up worlds which you hadn’t even imagined could exist. It’s an escape of sorts, to forget about your world by diving into other people’s. The words in books can be enchanting. They can spell out your own feelings, the thoughts you have inside, but haven’t been able to articulate or define. It’s amazing how another person not only identifies those feelings, but explains them way better than you could have done yourself. The stories told in books can be both fascinatingly alien and frighteningly familiar at the same time. You find yourself identifying with a character which is completely different from you. I believe that books not only help you understand other human beings better, they give you a better perspective on your own self. For me, every phase of my life has been defined by the books I read during that time. So it is not surprising that I have a strong connection to the books I have read throughout my life.

Similarly, I am certain that after many years, whenever I read the Twilight series again, when I’m all grown up and have a completely different life, the story will be accompanied by a plethora of connected memories: the heated arguments with Meenu Mami and Hasan over every tiny little aspect of the books, which ended in everyone remaining staunch in their opinion, and finally, us just agreeing to disagree; the hours spent listening to the iPod, with Meenu Mami and I assigning the appropriate songs for each character and situation – our own personal soundtrack to the books we cherish so much; sighing with all of my girly friends over the male leads, obsessing over every little quality they possess and mourning the sad truth that these are, in fact, fictional characters instead of real people!

It is the arguments and laughter and long, never-ending discussions about the books, and the emotions they stir up inside me that become intermingled with the actual stories written in the pages of these books, giving them that much more meaning and significance. It is the distant memory of Ammi reading the books to me, and the feeling I got whenever I stayed up at night, reading in secrecy, knowing that I should put it down, go to sleep, and yet being unable to actually do so. It is the ideas that the books put in my head, and the attempts I made in putting them to action. It is the bonds I formed with people through these books, and how I discovered things about myself while reading about somebody else. For me, books are not just stories and pages and words. They are so much more.


  1. Hamna says:

    I loved it!! I can totally relate to it cuz I’ve gone through almost the exact thing!=D

  2. meez says:

    o m g!!!!!!wow

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