most of my school years are a blurry memory now. and today i realized why.
i wasn't living in the world around me. i was living in another world.
i was living inside books. a lot of books, in fact.
i remember, when i was about 6, dad brought the whole "childcraft" collection. a big box of hardbound, glossy, full colour encyclopedia volumes. he paid a bomb for it, because he probably knew it would cost even more by the time i was old enough to start reading them.
he didn't have to wait too long. once i started, there was no stopping me. i read them once. i read them twice. i read the parents guide on how to get the child to read them. and then read them again.
when i was 8, i was hospitalized for a week, for appendicitis.
the evening before we went to the hospital, dad took me to the local library, and signed me up. "king's video library". the deposit was 30 bucks. my membership number was 1530. each book cost about 50p to 1re to borrow.
i don't remember what was the first book i borrowed, but i remember finishing every book i was "allowed" to in the next two years. luckily, i turned 10 by then, and was allowed access to my school's library. i still don't understand why you had to be in the 4th grade to be allowed to read, but that's how it was.
my school library had two sides, the fiction side, and the non-fiction side. fiction had about 8 racks, non-fiction, about 10. about 200 books in each rack on the fiction side. the fiction and non-fiction racks were arranged in ascending order of appropriateness for age.
in the 4th grade, i finished the first rack.
in the 5th, i finished two more.
in the 6th, i finished another two racks, and all the ones i had missed from the previous two.
in the 7th, i finished fiction.
that's when dad handed me three cardboard boxes from the loft. it was filled with packages, wrapped in yellowing (browning, in fact!) newspaper, with years written on them.
30 years of reader's digest. 1972 to 1992. i finished them in the summer vacation.
that's when things came to a head. i was out of reading material. my only option was non-fiction.
i started at the 4th grade end. and worked my way to the top.
around that time, i started cycling to school as well, so i wasn't restricted by school bus timings. i would reach school 5 minutes before the library would open, and leave after it shut. since it was full-day school, we had two breaks. i would eat my tiffin walking to and from the library. while reading.
i would also read in class. at home. in bed. over breakfast. i would have probably read in the shower if i could. i would read a paperback in about an hour and a half.
during the vacations, the school library was supposed to be closed. but it wasn't.
before school shut for the vacations, i made my arrangements. i took the librarian's number, and since she lived near school, i'd call and let her know my ETA. she'd lock me in the library for as long as i told her i wanted to read. i was allowed to take expensive encyclopedias (that students had to take permission to unlock the case, even!) home.
by the time i finished my 10th standard board exams, i had pretty much finished reading most of the library. my dad's college textbooks. all the manuals at home. and heaven knows what else.
it sounds unbelievable. but it's true, and i know it. i don't have many other memories of my school years.
i don't know whether it was because i overdid things, or whether i found more interesting things to do, or that college opened my eyes to the world around me, but everything changed. by the time i was 18, i had practically stopped reading for pleasure (and it's surprising how little i had to read to pass exams!)
most of my present-day best friends probably don't know about my reading story. most of them won't even suspect that i've probably read over 4000 books in 25 years, 3000 of which were in the last 5 years of my school years.
but they probably still find me an irritating mr-know-it-all.
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