I have written often and again in this blog and elsewhere about books, and what they do for us, and how much I have gained from them. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, carrying my genes and having been brought up with all the focused and reasoned care that I could muster, my daughter has become an avid reader. And I am using that word in the ancient, respectable sense.
I used to tell her when she was a child, with reference to the parochial and foolishly bigoted Bengali middle class we are surrounded by, that there are nothing called boroder boi (books for adults), as they call erotica in these parts. If you can read them, they are readable; and if you find them readable, read. Only, learn to discriminate. If you are reading too much Enid Blyton or Mills and Boon or Chetan Bhagat, you are having trouble growing up. Look around you, and you will find adults who have never grown up: they will cluck and simper and giggle and roll their eyes over Fifty Shades of Gray, but give them one serious book to read – leave alone understand, remember and discuss – and they will run for their lives. The last books they ever pretended to read were the texts that were prescribed in college.
So I am gladder than I can say that she has recently read, reflected upon and written about a very boroder boi – meaning one that 95% of adults I know won’t be able to make head or tail of, even if they can plough through the first hundred pages, and I am talking of ‘educated’ adults, mind you – Erich Fromm’s Fear of Freedom. Read it here. It has been one of the fifty most influential books in my life, and those who know me will understand what that means.
Wide and deep reading does not necessarily make a good or wise human being. I have closely known at least four whom books didn’t improve. Still, at my age, I cannot yet think of anything with higher potential. And so I am hopeful for my daughter. Also, sad, because, given the kind of mind she has developed, she is destined to be lonely for most of her life. But, as a very wise grandfather told his bright, headstrong, frequently wayward but essentially good granddaughter, being lonely isn’t a bad thing. It makes you strong as nothing else does. It can perchance makes you creative and valuable: such qualities are not developed amidst noisy crowds of idiots ‘having fun’. And, God willing, it can make you free, inasmuch as anybody in this world can be free.