Thursday, August 04, 2016

Reading ... for pleasure, and more

As a huge fan of short stories, I always look forward to the fiction in my favorite magazine.  With rare exceptions, of course--like this one that I skipped because the early paragraphs simply did not draw me into that imagined world.

Imagined worlds they are.  

As a kid, I read Enid Blyton's books, and I had to imagine pretty much everything that I read there.  Bacon, for one, about which I had no idea, and the kids in those books were always having bacon with breakfast.  After breakfast, they wandered about by the stream.  Imagine that!

Nonfiction essays, too, require imagination on my part.  Even now.  To read an essay like the one that masterfully describes the story of globalization via Chinese merchants selling sexy lingerie to Egyptian women wrapped up in niqabs, in a remote small town by the Nile, requires imagination on many dimensions.  Reading is, thus, more than mere reading:
When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed.
There is no denying the fact that Enid Blyton's stories changed me. They informed me that there were people and cultures that were far removed from where I existed.  The local stories too, whether by Sujatha or Kalki or Jayakanthan, changed me.  So did the serious and gossipy reporting in Blitz, Illustrated Weekly, or India Today.  Words and sentences were like magical spells.

The power to imagine is also the power to create.  
Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I'm going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It's this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things. They daydreamed, they pondered, they made things that didn't quite work, they described things that didn't yet exist to people who laughed at them..
Whether a fictional world, or the real world with problems of real people, reading them developed in me a sense of empathy.  Empathy then leads to wondering how the world can become a better place for you and me, which is why I rant--to make a case for doing things differently.
Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.
You're also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it's this:
Sometimes, I think that there are only two kinds of people on this planet--those who willingly read, and those who would way prefer not to read unless they were compelled to.  I have always believed that the world will be a better place if more people read on their own.  I am always shocked at how much even those who read quite a bit when they were kids do not spend some of their down-time reading--fiction or magazines or, heck, even newspapers.      
Am glad you read this blog-post! ;)


Ramesh said...

AMEN in capital letters. Completely agree.

See, that's why I read your posts :)

Sriram Khé said...

It has been a while since you disagreed with me ... just sayin' ;)

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