I had one of those pause-and-reflect moments today. You know, the kind you have when you think you are busy but then you just sit frozen in the same position as minutes tick by, unnoticed. Only a while ago, you had thought that what you had on your hands could not wait, and now it has all receded in a blur of a backdrop as you sit against it, thinking.
To my horror, the pages of one book placed at the bottom of a pile were folded and pressed inward. An entire row, standing against one end of the bookshelf was bent at the bottom right
I was dusting my books after a long time today. I took them out one by one and swept the dust off the fronts, the backs, tops, bottoms, sides… To my horror, the pages of one book placed at the bottom of a pile were folded and pressed inward. An entire row, standing against one end of the bookshelf was bent at the bottom right. They had been in that distorted position for some time – sliding down the little space available before the horizontal stack, without my noticing. I turned them all upside down and stacked them against the same end of the bookshelf hoping they’ll get back in shape. The rest of the books were more or less OK. Except that they looked deserted – which they have been for some time now.
There aren’t many, but it’s quite a variety. I have a book or two on politics and history, biographies, memoirs, classics (- 19th century romantics, mostly), epic fantasies, travelogues, Urdu literature, anthologies… At least one third of them is untouched. I belong to that species of people the internet has recently labelled as ‘bookaholics’ – it’s like shopaholics except our concern is limited to books. I buy books without stopping to think whether or not I have the time to read them, and then wither under the strain that I have stuff to do that I haven’t done.
For a long time now, I have fought that strain. Preferring, instead, to sleep or sit idle while I can. Until today when I had one of those pause-and-reflect moments. As I read the titles of various books, some of their authors beaming at me from the back flaps, I felt sorry for myself. Here it was, a treasure of a collection rotting in a corner of my room. Knowledge, experience, and wisdom; tales of triumphs and disasters and successes and failures; lessons therefrom; instruction and enlightenment; caution and counselling… all of it stacked in a corner of my room chiding me for my ignorance, if not make a jest of it. I marvelled at my choices. Lethargy over activity, idleness over occupation, inadequacy over fulfilment and, worst of all, ignorance over knowledge. The kind of choices we all make, every day, slaves as we are in the age of instant information and instant entertainment.
I recalled the events of the past few days – the ones I had enjoyed doing nothing – and found that they were worthless memories deserving only disposal. Instead, what had an honourable space in my memories were days when I had actually done something. I could not remember if or how I was sleep-deprived or strained back then. I could only remember a more productive self, generating something every day – a lesson learned, an article read, a write-up prepared, an experience shared… Whether it was a product of my creativity or that of another, in the abstract as a thought or in concrete as something bought – it had registered itself as the proud achievement of a day or a part of a day, in my mind. In retrospect, days like the former leave my memory as if they’d never existed, while the latter live on, eternalized.
What had an honourable space in my memories were days when I had actually done something. I could not remember if or how I was sleep-deprived or strained back then. I could only remember a more productive self, generating something every day
If you haven’t guessed already, it is not book-reading I am advocating though it is an essential part of it. I say only that you and I bring some positive, productive energy in our lives. That we quit being bound to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the likes of 9GAG, Dude Perfect, College Humour etc. I grant that they can be both useful and entertaining, and those administering them at various levels are worthy of commendation. But: that does not mean we waste hours in a row stalking people, streaming videos and ROFL-ing at memes. There is little, if any, meaning to all of this and the human spirit – so long as it is alive – craves for meaning. For the spirit to be sated, the being and the body must be in action and taking things nice and slow with ample time to pause and ponder. Or reflect, if you will.
So if 2 a.m. is the new 9 p.m. for you (too), then make sure you’re up doing something that’ll go down in your memory as an accomplishment – trivial though it be. Read something. Or better, write. Create, don’t just consume. Paint, draw, design. What is it that you’re good at? Ask the spirit. It’s craving for just that.