I have some great news. As you might have noticed, I have been mentioning my college application process on this blog in posts like the Weekly Wonder for Daddy Long Legs, Introducing Myself and Why I Write (and Read) and Dissecting a Tale: College Decisions and Indian Mythology and I have finally received my acceptance letter! I want to thank all of you because this blog and the support of all my readers formed a big part of my application and I have something for you at the end of this post to thank you.
My application essay was titled My Life in Books and I want to share it with you.
MY LIFE IN BOOKS
Have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket in the universe? I know I have. My first time was at the age of seven when someone gifted me an abridged copy of Jane Eyre for my birthday. In a seven year old’s universe where adversity meant having to finish your vegetables, this little pocket transported me to the world of another little girl for whom reading was a stolen pleasure and who had to struggle to get an education.
I was mesmerized by the ability of ink on paper (or lines on a screen) to hold a different time, a different place, an alternate reality, a parallel universe, a culture, a thought or a feeling in its folds. I soon found that at any time, in any place or in any situation I could simply jump into a small pocket in the universe and be in a different time, a different place and a different situation. I learned that I could ruffle a few pages, and live another life and see the world from someone else’s perspective. I developed a hunger for these vicarious experiences and began an active search for books.
“A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”
― Caroline Gordon
The search began with my parents’ bookshelves. The books in my parents’ collection took me on a wonderful journey that helped me grow in a variety of ways. There I found Dan Brown whose books introduced me to an altogether different mode of communication: symbols. I soon learned how symbols, words and phrases take different meanings in different cultures and understood the intricate fabric of human communication better.
The canon of Devdutt Pattanaik’s works gave me a new perspective on the mythological tales that I had first heard in my father’s lap. They gave me a taste of the rich heritage and unique culture that I am proud to be a part of. Pattanaik’s incomparable critique of Hindu mythology set me off on a path that allowed me to explore the communal stories of the culture that I belong to. Modern writers like Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi provided a fresh take on stories that were first conceived of ages ago. This exposure inspired me to explore the religions of the world. Soon I was engrossed in the Bible, the Quran and the Bhagavat Gita. An unattached, critical view of religious texts expanded my horizons. I understood that everything has its positives and negatives. I realized that religion isn’t everything it’s made out to be and it dawned on me that certain beliefs cannot possibly be true. It was then that I cemented my identity as an atheist; someone who chooses not to take religion at face value but values its cultural importance in understanding a society. It was under the tutelage of authors like Pattanaik that I developed into an atheist who has a passion for mythology.
As I grew, so did my preferences for reading material. I soon began exploring outside my home. It wasn’t long before the nearest bookstore became my second home. I stumbled across books like The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch, which helped me comprehend art, and understand its derivative nature (which is probably why Professor Cosineau’s lecture resonated so well with me) and its influential power.
“A word after a word after a word is power.”
― Margaret Atwood
Reading allowed me to live multiple lives, to experience vicariously what I cannot experience first hand. A study at Emory University found that reading books that are explicitly about character made subjects more empathetic and emotionally intelligent. We now have scientific proof for something that all readers have known for thousands of years; what one reads, one experiences.
“ ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies’, said Jojen. ‘The man who never reads lives only one.’ ”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
My most distinct experience with empathetic reading was perhaps The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I was 14 when I first read the book closely and I had an intense emotional response to the story of this girl who was my age chronologically but so much older experientially. It was all I could do to not break down into tears when I had the privilege of seeing the original diary written in Anne’s hand. I must admit that Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus tested my ability to empathize by introducing me to little Kambili who loved her father despite his abusive nature but the narrative style and the intricacy of Kambili’s character helped me comprehend not only her emotions and actions but also her father’s.
Every book that I read became a part of my personality after I had turned the last page. They all helped me grow and find my individual identity.
Four years ago I realized that I owe a great debt to this community of writers for taking me on incredible adventures, for teaching me what life is about and for giving me the lens through which I can look at the world from someone else’s eyes. This debt is one that I can only repay by adding my own perspective and experience to the pool of literary treasures and creating a few pockets of my own for someone else to jump into. I hope that I do all my gurus justice.
To celebrate, I want to give back to you. These are some free printable bookmarks that I created.
These are in PDF form. To download, either right click on the image and click “Save link as…” or click on the image and the PDF will open in another tab and you can download from there.
I hope you enjoy them!