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Riders for readers

chandigarh Updated: May 18, 2013 09:15 IST
Vikramdeep Johal

Groucho Marx once said in all his seriousness: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." History doesn't tell us whether Marx actually curled up with a page-turner inside a Dalmatian, Doberman or Dachshund, but desperate readers like myself won't mind exploring this option with a flashlight.

Alas, our world is so noisy and intrusive that even a canine interior seems a tempting place for undisturbed reading.

Just like addicts hooked on drugs, readers need the Written Word to stimulate the mind and avoid becoming 'brain-dead'. Here I'm talking about the hardcore ones who gorge on meaty material, not those who at best scan time-pass text messages, tweets and FB posts.
Blessed are the ones who can read practically anywhere, be it an airport lounge, a doctor's waiting room or a crowded bus. With monk-like concentration, they sit glued to the book in hand, unfazed by prying eyes. For others, including yours truly, solitude is a must.

It's a heavenly feeling when I find myself alone at home, ready to enter the diverse worlds between the pages. But my joy is shortlived. The moment I settle down in an easy chair and open a book, the doorbell shrieks. It's the courier guy, flashing my depressing bank statement. I tell him pleadingly to drop it in the letter box next time onwards and even "authorise" him to forge my signatures in his record sheet, but to no avail. Scared of losing his job, he always goes by the book.

Alone again, I return to my book, only to be distracted by the vegetable vendor's cries, the birds' mating calls and the honking of horns. If at all these noises/voices somehow fall silent, my oversensitive ears catch the clock ticking and the tap dripping, which both remind me that I'm running out of time for reading.

The next challenge is to resist modern-day trappings such as the computer and the cell phone. Once that's done, in comes the mighty TeeVee, that chewing gum for the eyes and ears, which is constantly luring me like the biblical serpent to close the book and turn it on. More often than not, I manage to keep Baird's baby at bay.

Too good to be true for me is Omar Khayyam's paradise-in-wilderness, where he sees himself sitting under a bough with a book of verse, loaf of bread, flask of wine and last but not the least, his sweetheart. What inspires me is the memory of a doctor whom I spotted reading a crime thriller in his car, minutes before he was to perform an ear operation on my father.

The windows up and the AC on, he sat immersed in the book, apparently without a care in the world. His unusual behaviour unnerved me, and I remained on tenterhooks till the completion of the surgery - which went off without a hitch. I regret not asking the ENT specialist about his idiosyncrasy, but his image has stayed with me over the years, egging me on to read against all odds.

The writer can be reached at vikramdeep.johal@hindustantimes.com