Book My Soul

I can write a book on books! That, I feel, tells the story of my relationship with books.

I really do not know when I was given my first book, but I remember distinctly how I started reading. As a kid, lying on the bed, next to my father who would read a newspaper, I would identify some words, mind you - not letters, because that is the way he encouraged me to read. Several years later I read about a British teacher who had invented such pedagogy for teaching children. It was already practised at my home.

As a young boy, I read books and magazines which all students read – Panchtantra, Chandoba [that was the name of the Marathi edition, Chandamama to some] to name a few. But I started reading classics, thanks to my school friends. I read War and Peace, the Marathi translation when I was in school. No book was forbidden for me but I must say that I was careful enough with Kakodkar’s novels. Chandrakant Kakodkar later wrote ‘Shyama’ which got embroiled in controversies and protracted litigation on obscenity(Click here for more on the litigation). I read those without my parents’ knowledge. I had a hearty good laugh when I discovered that my father owned a copy of ‘Lolita’ which was a banned book then.

Banned books somehow attracted me instantly [I suspect such attraction is universal!] – There is a strong attraction of anything which is forbidden! I knew Lolita was in his possession. Lolita remained out of my reach not because I was not allowed to read it – in fact, my father would not mind my reading it – but there was a strange reason why I did not read it. Oh, I could not read it! I studied in Marathi medium school and could not understand it! When I moved from school to college I was asked to stop reading Marathi and read only English books, something that made me stop reading both. It was a few years later that I resumed reading books.

I started enjoying PG Wodehouse, and later a friend introduced me to Somerset Maugham. Recently I went to a well known book shop and asked if they stocked Somerset Maugham, the sales girl mistook it to be the name of a book and asked me name of its author! Harold Robbins followed almost immediately. But I stopped while reading Ernest Hemingway. I found his style not easy to read then – but I picked up his ‘The Old Man and The Sea’. Knowing that I always found it difficult to read Hemingway, I also picked up its Marathi translation – ‘Eka Koliyane.’ It is done by a very noted author in Marathi – PL Deshpande. A renowned editor later told me that it was a piece of bad translation! [Incidentally ‘Padas’ by Ram Patwardhan is considered as an outstanding piece of translation of a book, and many consider it to be the best. I am proud of my namesake!]. Recently I read Hemingway’s very famous story – ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.’ And accidentally I read Wikipedia on that story! Amazing!!

I must have read several dozens of biographies. And I have read some with a purpose. Try reading Baburao Pendharkar’s biography and then read the autobiography of Leela Chitnis who was linked to her romantically. You get different versions of the same story! But I think there is nothing to beat two autobiographies – ‘Sangtye Aika’ by Hansa Wadkar and ‘Ek Jhad ani Don Pakshee’ by Vishram Bedekar. The latter received Sahitya Academy award. Biographies of Dev Anand and Lance Armstrong are more image building exercises than serious stuff.

Khushwant Singh remains my favourite author. Very direct and no words minced. I have enjoyed his writings and books, particularly ‘Not a Nice Man to Know.’ With his exception, I do not read any Indian author in English; I really don’t know the reason. There is just one exception – Rajmohan Gandhi. His books – biography of Mahatma, Sardar Patel and Understanding the Muslim Mind are, in my eyes, masterpieces. Rajmohan Gandhi brings out shades of their personalities, a skill which very few can match.

Among the recent Marathi authors I admire Anil Awchat. He has a style of his own – he details everything that he sees, and builds the story so craftily. His old book ‘MaNas’ is perhaps one of his best and undoubtedly a great book. One can pick up any book of Anil Awchat and read – those are very well written, informative and insightful. And in almost all cases, those are true stories.

In one of the story [a real case] he describes how a jailor raped a minor girl and got away with it because the victim’s father, a man living in abject poverty, accepted money to give false evidence and allowed the jailor off the hook. These real stories hold harsh realities in front of us and make us very uncomfortable. Anil Awchat has also inspired many to contribute to social cause.

Talking of inspiration, oh yes, how I can forget Osho – I read all his books, and often draw my inspiration and insights.

Right! That is why I read books – they give me inspiration and insights. Sometimes when I like a particular thought, I find it difficult to sit and read further, so excited I get. When you read a book, you get the benefit of reliving some of the past moments in your life! Learning to reflect on one’s life at nobody’s provocation, but in seeing oneself in somebody’s life story, holds a treasure of insights – sometimes very uncomfortable insights, which make you a better human being.

In old stories a Prince’s soul is stored somewhere far away, in the body of a bird. I believe that a part of my soul is stored in my books. Those books contain my life albeit the different names in the stories, and my memories, my trials and tribulations, my excitement, and inspiration.

The books are my soul!

An Article by Vivek Patwardhan who blogs at HResonance and Vivek Patwardhan's Blog

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