The (Hi)Story of a Girl: A Reflection of my Reading Journey on World Book Day

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My reading journey began at the tender age of 3, when I would coerce my parents to read out pages from the Panchatantra (an ancient Indian book of animal folktales, not unlike Aesop’s Fables) and then proceed to ‘read’ it myself, effortlessly, if I may add. My parents were surprised and delighted at the fact that their firstborn seemed to be the very incarnation of William Shakespeare, until they realised I was simply recalling their exact words from memory, while not turning a single page of the book itself.

While I unfortunately do not have such photographic memory anymore, I have developed a genuine passion and love for reading (without any assistance, if I might brag). English has become my favourite subject, and books have become my life. Words are a part of me, the very essence of my soul, one of the few pleasures in life I can always find comfort in. Reading is simple, reading is straightforward, and never fails to make me feel weightless and insignificant, yet grounded and necessary. Words are just what they are, words, and it is our responsibility to give meaning to them.

To write, to analyse and to inquire and critique have become my very nature, due to a healthy diet of consuming books, books, and more books, as well as any objects around me that had writing on it (including cereal boxes and Ikea catalogues) from the tender age of 6, that is, after I stopped manipulating my parents into thinking I was the next Charles Dickens.

I personally think I am a good reader. I deeply enjoy reading, despite not having much time for it these days, sneaking in a few pages before bed each night. I devour books like they are sweet, precious oxygen and am always on the hunt for new recommendations, despite an ever growing TBR pile gathering dust in my bedroom. I do, however, read more than most of my family and friends, which I recognise is not exactly a fair benchmark, considering the fact that you, dear reader, do not know my family and friends. Unless you are my brother, in which case, hello Taran, Mama wanted me to tell you to walk Kunju.

My favourite possession would have to be this intricately designed, deep purple bookmark I recently bought, with gold depictions of the moon. Materialistic, I know, but a beautiful bookmark always helps me get into a cosy mood, perfect for delving into a new adventure among the words lining a page. Fiction, as well as its subgenre fantasy, is by far my most favourite thing to read about. While I do enjoy my fair share of nonfiction about science and history, learning more about the ever-changing world around me, being transported to a different world would have to be my main past time. Fantasy tends to be a scorned genre, with many believing it to not be serious reading or a waste of time.

My advice? Ignore those people. You don’t have to read Dickens, or Shakespeare, or Tolstoy, or Austen to be an accomplished reader! It doesn’t matter if you read romance, action, mystery, or horror! What matters is that you read, that you enjoy, that you explore, and that you imagine. While I doubt, I can name the best book I have ever read, I can however tell you the book I read that changed my view of reading, and of fiction: The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty. Anyone who has ever read fantasy knows it used to be a primarily Eurocentric genre. I would read about children with skin as pale as the clouds, hair the colour of glistening honey, and eyes like the morning sky, being whisked away on fantastical adventures, getting back home just in time for lunches of cold ham and cheese sandwiches accompanied by glasses of chilled apple cider. People who held wands and commanded ancient magic from the Celtics and the Scots setting out to restore peace to the world. Quite relatable to a person who lives on the other side of the world from where these stories are set, eh? But it was never something I took notice of, being content to simply read, and daydream about a world so close, yet so far from mine own.

Reading the City of Brass on a chilly October night after having seen it recommended online and then promptly asking for it as a birthday present opened my eyes. The words on the very first page itself grabbing hold of every neuron in my brain and giving them. a good shake. I read about spices, and sand, jewels and gold, food that was spiced with ruby red chillies and drinks flavoured with cardamom, about a culture quite similar to my own, with a protagonist with skin as tanned as wheat, hair the colour of the crow’s wings, and eyes like the midnight sky. Finishing
the book, I developed a craving for more, to see the beauty of other cultures and characters with appearances not dissimilar to my own, being brave, strong, righteous, and kind. The feeling of seeing someone just like us in the media we consume should be something everyone should have the chance to experience.

The first book I remember liking would have to be the Panchatantra. The morals and life lessons these stories portrayed through the eyes of animals have stuck with me to this very day. As for the last book I read, it would be Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. Quite late, I know, but it truly is fascinating to learn about the history of humanity, from where we came from and where we are now, and all what we could have been.

My favourite place in the world and the place I like to read most would be my bedroom. It’s familiar and comforting, and I can truly enjoy the book and all it has to offer. While there is no ‘perfect’ time for reading, I find that either huddling up with a good book right before bed is quite homely, or relaxing on the porch with a book in your hand and a dog by your side on a lazy, windy afternoon is the very essence of pleasure itself.

I personally prefer to read print books. While I understand and acknowledge the ease of convenience Kindle, Audible, and other forms of digital and audio reading provide, there is nothing like the woody, earthy, inky scent of a well-loved book; or a book hot off the bookshop shelves. The feeling of a scratchy yet soft pages of papers as your hands eagerly turn to the next page, pressing in a shiny brand new bookmark or the closest object to you to save your page, filling in the columns of the pages with annotations or general commentary to show that yes, you existed, that you read this book and pondered over it, and here is the proof, admiring a colourful, well stocked bookshelf that holds all of your reading achievements and brushing off cookie crumbs from the nooks and crannies of a particularly well loved book, are all uniquely human experiences that have prevailed since 500 BC and will continue to live on, which no technology will ever be able to replicate.

If I could have the qualities of a literary character, it would be Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables. Anne is full of passion and a zest for life, romanticising almost everything she comes across, and touching the heart of everyone she meets, always striving to be a good person and making the most of a bad situation. I hope to one day be able to look at life with same joy, beauty, and imagination she does.

If I had to choose between meeting my favourite author or my favourite character, it would have to be, without a doubt, my favourite character, Hercule Poirot, a funny little Belgian Detective who appeared in about thirty three novels penned by famous murder mystery writer, Agatha Christie. I would be thrilled to have a conversation with him, to get a glimpse, just a taste, of those renowned “little grey cells”.

I would probably choose J. R. R. Tolkien to pick what I read for an entire year. While I admittedly do not know much about the man himself, I would read anything recommended by the person who has created perhaps the most significant and detailed fantasy world of the twentieth century. I was recently asked if I would rather read only 1 book a year and remember everything, or read 100 books but remember nothing. This for me, dear reader, is a very difficult question. What is more significant, the value and experience reading a singular book holds, or the quickly forgotten knowledge but the forever remembered achievement that a hundred books provide. In the end, I would have to pick the solitary work a year, as the quality of knowledge will always be prized, disregarding its quantity.

In a similar vein, I was also asked if would rather only read the very first page of the book, or the very last. Again, a difficult question. While the first page introduces you to the characters/ and or setting of the book, it ultimately is the one to hook you in, leaving one extremely unsatisfied and begging to know more if they only read the first page. On the other hand, reading the book’s last page provides closure and comfort, knowing the fate of the characters, but ultimately spoiling the whole experience of praying for the ending to be pleasant. I would, however, have to go with reading the first page, as it would be useless to know what happens to characters I haven’t connected to at all, and simply live with the fact that I would never meet, nor know what happens to them again.

The name I would choose if I had to use a pseudonym would be Naina Su. While you may or may not have realised this is just a play on my first name, Sunaina, I can assure you that it means more than that. Naina is of Sanskrit origin meaning ‘eyes’, while Su means ‘water’ in Turkish. So my pseudonym would be Watery Eyes, at least, I hope that is what it is interpreted as. So keep a look out! Maybe you’ll see some books in about ten years’ time stating they are written by Naina Su!

The title of the book I would write would be “The Windows Overlooking an Ocean of Eternity”. Lengthy, I know, but considering the length of the previous paragraphs, you should know me quite well by now. It would possibly be a fantasy book, that also critiques yet celebrates humanity and human nature. Plus, the title is a reference to my pen name! The more you know!

Everything is, after all, connected. From my pseudonym linking to my future book title, to you reading this text, at this time, in this place, in this year, right here and right now. The essence of this connection, as well as every other, is due to communication, and to be specific, words and reading. Reading is a crucial aspect to human nature, and the ability to do so is what sets us apart from every other species inhabiting this planet. So this World Book Day, pick up a book, and start your connection.

Who knows where its content may take you, may shape you, or may break you? Life is all about experiences after all, so go make some new ones, right here, and right now.

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