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Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  On reading once again

Some years ago, I travelled from Paris to Rennes on a train. I was overcome with the tedium of having spent several idle hours at the Gare Montparnasse station, waiting for the train to arrive. The journey from New Delhi to Paris had made me weary. Later, as the train raced past the French countryside, I looked outside to kill time. Out of sheer anxiety, I started toying with my cigarette pack and yearned for the nourishment of cigarette smoke. To kill boredom, I took out a document I had prepared for my business meetings and tried to leaf through it. Its prosaicness made me sleepy. Mundane thoughts crisscrossed my mind.

Not knowing what to do, I gazed at the ceiling for some time and then surveyed the coach. Sitting close by was an obese man, barely comfortable in his seat. On his tray table lay a dozen books. The titles caught my interest and I looked wistfully at a book the man held in his hands. Among others, I spotted an Umberto Eco and a Jean-Paul Sartre. One book was on cinema and one on theology.

The man flipped the pages at equal intervals. Each word was bestowed with equal attention. Presently, a middle-aged woman sitting next to the man started a fervent conversation in French. I relished the music in the drawl and the lisping conversation, though I understood nothing. At first, I wished I understood the language. But then the music would not have been magical at all. Sometimes, understanding kills the charm. I imagined the couple talking about how the impending winter would lend its warmth to their cold nights. How they would revel and wonder at the mysteries unravelled.

Strange thoughts invaded my muddled mind. I recollected a typical day at work spent in front of my computer, writing emails, editing documents, staring at Excel sheets with graphs and numbers, and talking on the phone. What atrophy! A sweat broke as I realized I had not read a book in years. I recollected the books I had read during my school days. The Old Man And The Sea, Animal Farm, Jataka Tales, The Arabian Nights, Aesop’s Fables, a children’s encyclopaedia, World Atlas, Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, Premchand’s Godan, Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, Edward FitzGerald’s rendition of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, a book of assorted quotations. What wisdom! What rich experience of life, of the true essence of things worldly and eternal. What enjoyment! What permanence!

As the train slowed, I looked outside through the tinted windowpane. A quaint station on the outskirts of Brittany. The lovely countryside reminded me of a lost home in Kashmir. A lone willow in a cobbled courtyard. A long and dark winter. A boy sitting by the window of a four-storeyed house, waiting for snowflakes to light up the night. Winters in Kashmir always loved people who spent days and nights reading books.

I looked at the distant houses swathed in creepers. Smoke bellowed quietly from the chimneys. A sublime quietude reigned. Evening had descended quietly on the deserted railway platform. As the train started moving, I noticed that the seats next to me were vacant. I surveyed the coach and the platform framed by the window. The stout man and the woman were walking towards the station exit. They carried with them a beautiful promise they had made to each other.

The platform was painted yellow. At a distance, withered leaves danced merrily in a circle. Desolate and clouded, I returned to the document I was reading, folded it carefully, and entered into the world of books I had read long ago as a child.

Siddhartha Gigoo is a film-maker, poet and the author of two books of fiction, The Garden Of Solitude and A Fistful Of Earth And Other Stories. He also co-edited A Long Dream Of Home for Bloomsbury, India.

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