Reading affords me some temporary thrills that I find hard to quantify. I cannot help suspect it is like the trippy psychedelics of a drug-addled dream. Not addled. No. Addled implies a lack of will. Fuelled might be a better word. Fuelled – because it is a conscious injection and letting go.
Yes, a drug-fuelled dream.
But alas, it is not often that I can completely lose myself to this past time.
Whenever I sit down to read, my mind invariably races ahead unheeded. The minute it senses a predictability in the book, or a more racy thought tickles my imagination, and with some such trivial and fanciful departures my mind fails to co-operate with the eye and hand. It could even be distracted by the fact that it has not yet been distracted from a book sometimes. Yes, it is that fickle.
Which is why I am so happy that I have actually managed to read so many books successfully to completion.
Many times I have caught myself reading a book, but thinking vague thoughts. Yet at other times, I am thinking about books, when trying to solve other problems.
Garth Greenwell’s story about an American’s time spent in Bulgaria suited my distracted readings perfectly. It was a story that I could read with little moral qualms, that traversed familiar paths and in the end gave me a happy ending.
It was like a walk along the cliffs of Dover. You feel you have been there but you do not mind the walk again. Cumulatively, one would hope, many such walks along the familiar cliffs give a sense of comfort and reassurance which new paths and reading materials do not provide.
The distraction, I slowly started realizing, is an unwillingness to fully engage with the narration because of its familiarity. The minute someone starts going through a line of thought that you have mulled to death, the conversation becomes academic. There is nothing new. After that point it is merely a matter of watching the other speaker un-knot the topic, hit logical mazes, project prejudices – all the while you watching them with a mild curiosity, hoping they get to a point from where you can actually start mining some conversational value.
With time on one’s hand, a curious nature, and ubiquitous access to the internet – mainly Wikipedia and Google – it is a matter of 30 minutes before anyone gets sufficiently equipped with enough information about a topic of interest before hitting specialist realms. All of which makes one smug and consciously arrogant about the process of aquiring knowledge with the help of others.
Many fascinating people in my small social circle in real life are worried by this trait in themselves. They are always cautious if their elitism, however guilt inducing, is apparent in everyday conversations. They do not want to come across snobbish or let their detached attitude show. They are sufficiently skilled in faking enthusiasm.
Frequently in social gatherings, once the conversation moves beyond the pleasantries, there is a sense that many adults are struggling to hit common ground to find something interesting to engage with conversationally. All topics of interest have been had with themselves, with others through texts, or in random comment sections on the net. Even if one has not been directly engaged in these conversations, just reading through a thread where the topic is discussed sometimes quenches the initial thrill and interest in the topic for many. How many times have we all started on the topic of politics, or sports, or movies only to realize that the conversation has occured somewhere, at some other time, and is already dead before it even began?
Discussions are more and more becoming stagnant pools of conversations with posturing and sound bites. I am guilty of this faux pas as much as anyone else, if not excessively. I sometimes even catch myself having an effortless conversation with a group but completely absorbed in another side conversation.
Reading and writing- one-way conversations and monologues- I realized, insulates me from all these guilts.
However, one of the mental biggest squatters of this condition is solitude. An oppressive silence that slopes all around and gently rolls as far as your consciousness goes like the yellow sand dunes or deep blue waves in the ocean. This solitude is made more intense when someone wanders onto this desolate horizon, but before you can flag the attention of the intruder, they shimmer away into the far reaches.
In this expanse of shifting and shapeless landscape, you build your cottage. A cottage of solitude wired with inner dialogues, trivia, doubts, dreams and foundations.