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Looking Back In Bewilderment, Or How To Lose Your Reading Habit

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Self-isolating has given me time. A lot of it. With two children under five, however, time or the having of it is an abstract concept. The only thing I am thankful for is that I work for people who empathise with this situation, and are willing to accommodate me.

Circling back to the time at hand. Once we are done negotiating with a four-year-old about it being our turn with the Alexa remote, my husband and I take turns to watch some content that features speaking adults, as opposed to the Oddbods and bless them, my favourite, Story Bots. Of late, we’ve stumbled onto Marathi movies. Among the first full-length Marathi movies we watched was Choricha Mamla (2020),  a farce that’s streaming on Prime Video right now. Before this, my husband went through a Punjabi film phase (as an aside, it’s a little creepy how most of the Punjabi actresses look like Kylie Jenner). Ably aided and abetted by English subtitles, we have embarked on a journey to discover movies that we wouldn’t normally pick because we would choose either Tamil, Malayalam or Hindi.

I thoroughly enjoyed Choricha Mamla. The staging of the scenes, and the plausibility of the comedy was excellent. And it elicited a ton of belly laughs. The success of this watching experience led us to watch a few other Marathi movies. Some were interesting and some didn’t excite. The latest one that played at home was the movie YZ (2016). This movie is centered around a 33-year-old college professor of history and his existential crisis about life, his ambitions, his identity, women, marriage, etc. I barely watched the movie but did sit through some parts. The one bit I watched involved Gajanan (played by Sagar Deshmukh) going with his aunt to a match-making event. There, he runs into Parnarekha (played by Sai Tamhankar) with whom he broke off an engagement. Embarrassed by this turn of events, his aunt asks him to leave with her and goes back home to his place.

Over a cup of tea, his aunt tells him to live life on his own terms. She praises him for how he’s kept his home and his work as a history teacher. Gajanan is surprised by this conversation, and he tells his aunt as much. He shows his aunt an old book that he presumed belonged to his mother. His aunt tells him that it was her book, and her mother snatched it from her hands on the day that his uncle had come home to meet her.

Suddenly his aunt looks back on her life and tells him about how much she loved reading. How she read Fountainhead in one sitting, and how she wolfed through books in hours. But, she got married and what took her six hours was now taking her 12 and then days, and then months, and before she even realised, books had left her life. Through the years, if she had one regret, it was letting go of her books. With that example, she tells her nephew to do as his heart desires rather than letting go of everything and living a boring life that he is simply not interested in. Buoyed by this, Gajanan moves on with his life’s journey.

The aunt’s little monologue struck a chord with me. I’ve been married seven years, a mother for five of them, and the last time I read a book, I was breastfeeding my brand new baby in 2018. I’ve had to leave a couple of very interesting books halfway because I’m either dealing with snack time, or sickness, or just clingy children.

I miss uninterrupted reading time. Actually, I miss uninterrupted time. I miss it. It is not an indictment of my family. Just something I miss. I envy my daughter her hours of pretend play where she’s apparently had the time to make up a story about beanstalks and her doll Suzy and leaves that grow so big that you can walk across them and reach Paris!

I envy my toddler her hours of meandering through the house, digging dirt, destroying my pink lipstick, dunking herself in the bucket, and then walking to me like she did exactly nothing. I envy them.

I am jealous of the time I read stories to my children. It’s the most literature I have consumed since 2019! It baffles me, mostly, that we are able to rid ourselves of things we love without even realising that they’ve gone. Reading just slipped away from me, and I barely noticed.

I don’t want to blame anyone. I want to look at why, for some of us, letting these things go is so seamless, for the lack of better word. Even now, if you asked me for my definition of time well-spent, I would say sitting by the window with my nose buried in a good book. I don’t even need tea or coffee to go with it. Just good lighting.

Habits, like loves, are tough to break out of. They are so deeply imprinted into who we are that we cannot imagine who we would be without them. Thinking of the many occasions and places at which I have carried a book for company, I cannot imagine now, writing a nostalgic piece about reading, of all things.

It’s a hollow ache. To lose printed pages. Marriage, children, and responsibilities give you a starring role in the WhatsApp Wife Joke, other than that, you’re just a clueless person wondering who the new literary star is and where they came from. Once upon a time, you were the one sharing “undiscovered gems”.

For instance, I assumed Chimamanda Adichie was the Nigerian writer everyone was reading. Her TED talk did get sampled on a Beyonce track, after all. But, there are several others now. There is also a new Japanese author everyone loves? How and when did I miss the news? To the million-dollar question then, do I blame anyone? No. I don’t. I blame myself for letting my pages go without a fight. Without resistance. Without grief. I let it go, and today, I can only look back in bewilderment.

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