Monday, December 23, 2013

From one free Geek to another

Memories have a tendency of being sketchy and sometimes even contrary to reality so although I do remember this little occurrence from a few years back (mainly owing to the effect it had on me as an avid fan of a popular teen novel series), I am not sure whether the narrative is correct to its last detail.

It was at the end of a tiring classroom session that our professor broached the subject of reading in general and how it is becoming more and more of an extinct hobby. He pointed out the pros of inculcating a regular habit of reading non-academic books, be it fiction or non-fiction and the importance of one beginning with the habit at an early age. Then, as the audience listened captivated, he went on to name a few authors, which beginners could see as readable, Chetan Bhagat being one amongst them. He opined that Bhagat’s novels are easy to go through and simple to digest.

Then, as the session progressed with more names being shouted out by students from the back, a friend of mine looked at me and shouted. . . . no scratch that. . . began shouting. . . . no no not that either. . .  he actually began chanting at a high pitch, wanting everyone in the room to hear-  HARRY POTTTER. . . . . HARRY POTTER. . .

And yes, everybody did hear it. But, to my good fortune, nobody looked at me. They all looked at him. Our professor guffawed and the students followed, leaving my friend red in the ears even as he tried his best to direct the jeering towards me with his hand and eyes.

MAGIC!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahah FOR CHILDREN!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahaha.. . .

I’m pretty sure that my ears were as red as his as I sat still, scared enough to make no movement lest some other quick witted friend of mine spot me in my unnoticed corner, regrettably recount that I too had an enormous interest in the Potter series and join in on the pointing out exercise.

Thankfully it didn’t happen. Our professor (God bless him) shifted the discussion back to safe and secure curriculum-centric talk and the audience was hushed again.

I have to say, the experience wasn’t that bad because it ended quick and everybody forgot even quicker.

You want to know what the worst bit was?
It was the bit that followed. The bit where I walked back home with the incident replaying in my head like an endless loop hell bent on making me confess that my tastes were wimpy and sissy.

And I admit it. It sucked big time.

Yes it did.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I already knew that I was a nerd before the day of this incident; always have been and always will be, no matter what the milieu I am stranded in the middle of.

Still, it sucked big time.

I felt like this puny little kid who is refusing to grow up when everyone around him belonging to his age group or even to the one beneath his, are moving up with passing years, their minds in sync with reality and their thoughts tuned to the sound of facts and truth, as they should be ideally.

I felt so stupid.

In a class that is one hundred and thirty strong, I am the only geeky geek who enjoys reading perfumed and powdered up tales of magic and wizardry meant for children.

And I think it was only after I reached home and went through the stack of novels I had already added to my collection by then that I realized how wrong I was. . . . . not in being a geek but in thinking that I was wrong in being a geek.

I asked myself- Hold on, wait a minute. When the fuck did I ever enjoy reading Harry potter for the magic element?

At what point exactly did wanting to learn more about wizards and witches be my sole purpose of devouring the seven part series?

Heck, was it ever even a purpose in the first place?

Hell no!

Magic! Hahahahah! For children! Hahahahah!

I mean, yes, I would readily agree if someone pointed out to me that the first Potter book that I read was way back in my eighth grade. And of course, you wouldn’t picture an eighth grade schoolboy reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone because he wants to write a critique on it later.

So yes, the incentive before I had begun reading might have been magic. The USP of the book, that’s what you could call it.

But what about after that? What about once I began reading? What about the time that I had reached halfway point and what about the time that three parts out of the seven were behind me and I was still revving to have a go at the fourth and then the fifth and the sixth and the finale?

Was it magic that drew me towards the books and made me continue?

No. It wasn’t.

It was then, I think, that I laughed a laugh that is generally reserved for those awkward moments where you realize that something that has left you shaken is actually full of shit and doesn’t deserve even a second’s glance back.

Magic or no magic, those books were wonderful reads and I still stand by this statement.
(Infact, it may happen sometimes that I truly feel like reading through and reliving those scenes in my mind again which sadly I am unable to, not because of the fact that I am no longer a teenager. No sir! Its just the time constraint that stops me)

And as I write this post now, thinking again about the voices (one hundred and thirty strong) that laughed and jeered at the idea of Harry Potter being even suggested as a recommendation for teens to read in place of a ‘One night at the call centre’ or a ‘Five point Someone’. . . . . . yes, I’ll admit, it makes me laugh and jeer too.

Only for quite the opposite reasons.
Harry Potter is one of the best series to begin your reading streak with if you are below or at twenty.

But wait!


Apologies for letting you down, but I do not have a hard-on for either flying brooms or funny sounding spell names or talking snakes or all of these and many more collectively.

But I do have a massive. . . . MASSIVE addiction to well told STORIES.


And to anyone who is interested in knowing, I would like to state for the record- Harry Potter is probably one of the best STORIES to begin your reading hobby with. I mean- its big, its unique, its a coming of age tale that is aimed at an audience who is supposed to grow alongwith the characters. It becomes mature and darker and more complex as the parts and years (both yours’ and the characters’) progress. The sub plots are rich in detail, the twists are believable but not na├»ve in their execution. It is in fact a ginormous web of wordage, littered with cross references and inter connections all across the seven books, so much so that you are bound to remain engaged till the very end, silently rooting for the protagonists whilst also wishing for the antagonists (or atleast their sidekicks) to change sides.

Barring the first two or even three books, I would not agree with anyone who opines that the books are just meant for kids. (Because they just aren’t).

But do you want to know what it is that I have an even greater addiction to as compared to well told stories?

It is words.
Boy o Boy does she know how to spin a web!
And I have to tell you, when you begin with Bhagat’s first four “popular” novels or when you are done with the first two or even after you’re done with all four, you will still be at the starting point of learning as far as the English language is concerned.

I totally agree with all my heart on my professor’s opinion that day in class that Bhagat’s novels are easy to go through and simple to digest.

Yes, they are.

So are most processed foods if I’m not wrong. (Maggi! 2-minute mein Khushiyan!!)
But I don’t see any parent recommending his kids to eat a bowl of noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner till the time they haven’t broached other multifariously better food items. Because the whole point of making them eat in the first place is so that their growing bodies get and retain some form of nutrition.

And it is on the same grounds that I reject the idea of Bhagat’s novels being a safe bet for inculcating reading habits amongst teenagers. Because the whole point of making them read in the first place is so that their growing minds get and retain some form of literary experience, some form of experience in exercising the usage of their imagination and intellect, their language and grammar skills. Which sadly does not happen after you’ve read the books in question.

To put it in short (especially for those teens or anyone else for that matter who have read till this point and found ‘fuck’, ‘fucking’, ‘arse’, ‘bums’ and ‘hard-on’ as the only interesting bits)-

Not just wham-bam-thank you ma’am!
But wham-would you like to go out to dinner again-ok-dinner and a movie-ok-GREAT-wham-you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever went out with-thank you-wham-this is special, I think we have something special between us-I know-wham again. . . . . .  until finally bam (before the next step or after, in no particular order) – I love you–me too-thank you ma’am dear (for being part of my life )!

The question of simplicity and the question of pure bullcrap are two different questions with no connection to each other. If I agree that beginners would prefer to read something simple in wordage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they must begin with something that is forgettable bullcrap being served in simple wordage. The standard of the content should never go down, irrespective of the experience and the expertise which the audience has. Only the tools deployed to present that content may change depending upon the reader’s literary capacity. But the writing has to evolve and also allow the reader to evolve, to question his own capacity and to question the perception that he has about his capacity for words being limited to paltry levels.

There are two ways of teaching, I believe- one is to lower your level down to the level of the learner and make him understand. I doubt that this form of teaching can be resorted to for long without getting annoyed because there is very little outcome that can be achieved. The other way is to simplify what you are teaching but only to that extent where the person being taught is able to comprehend it and at the same time he feels the need to raise his own level to understand the deeper and more profound sections of the content.  

Do you not see?
Then try comparing Memento with Ghajini. Or better, Munnabhai with Chennai Express. I’m positive that it’ll help.

So there it is. My first recommendation to beginners- If you do not mind a fat load of fiction served alongwith a bowl of vocabulary that will last with you for the rest of your lives- read Harry Potter.

But then again, when I think of it, I have many friends who are as ardent a fiction reader as I am and they did not find the idea of going through the Potter series as interesting, not back then, not even now. Which I don’t mind, because I do not see them jeering and pointing fingers at those who have. Its just a matter of having different tastes in the same field.

And when it comes to the question of taste, I- those who know me well enough will agree with me here, others please bear with me- am not one to compromise so easily.

And thus it is (FINALLY!!!) that, after typing nearly 2100 words under the pretext of giving the subject of my post a decent background, I arrive at the part where I am supposed to actually write about the subject itself.

 But wait again!

One moment before you think once more about writing this post off as- NOT ANOTHER  MOTHERFUC. . . . . . . . .etcetera etcetera.

The post ends within the next few lines. I promise.

The intent was to make a few recommendations for budding readers of fiction who feel, as I feel, that reading helps in other areas of life. So, considering the fact that not everyone would enjoy reading Harry Potter, I give you a few other suggestions which are a MUST READ for any teenager who wants to improve on his language without getting bored in the process:

This book that spans over two generations is a classic tale of fate pitting two ambitious men against each other despite both of them being righteous in their own ways. It follows Kane and Abel, the two protagonists right from the point of their birth into two different families at two extreme ends of the economic spectrum. After reading it, the only thing that bugged me was why hadn’t I ever thought of reading it before in my life?


This witty, sarcasm-filled, first person narrative of a boy from the lower class of our society aiming to make it big and actually making it big albeit through unethical shortcuts is bound to make you feel hurt and question whether how our country has been portrayed in here is authentic or not. But I say to you, isn’t that the whole point of reading a book? 

You wanting to question its contents and wanting to know whether it is true or not for yourself and your perception of the people around you? Read it for the intelligence that the author oozes out of the narration that is both disturbing and hilarious at the same time. 

Again, I assure you, it makes use of very simple English. 

But a forewarning- donot go ahead and pounce on ‘Last Man in Tower’ written by the same author, thinking that it will also be similar in structure and simplicity as The White Tiger, or that it will be a smooth sailing with a satisfying end. Because its not! (In fact its kind of a drag, I’ll have to admit, and way more complex in terms of character building and narrative depth). 

So for now, stick to just this one.


If the answers to any of the below questions is Yes, you have no right WHATSOEVER, to skip this series of short stories and novellas: 

Are you an aspiring professional? 

Are you preparing for a post graduation degree that contains law. . . . any law, as part of the course content? 

Are you being groomed, or do you yearn to be groomed for a job that requires your hands to have that particular knack of writing theses just as fluidly as you are able to speak with yourself while thinking? 

Do long drawn, complex, comprehensively written and heavily verbose sentence structures bother you? 

Believe me, trust me, I beg you. This is for your own good. You may not enjoy your first few attempts with Sir Arthur’s heavy handed narratives, but stick with it and there shall remain no provision under any legislature that you are unable to make head or tail of. And, as you are bound to know already, Sherlock Holmes’s cases are quite good to figure out.

Looks like a Sloth, but writes much faster
Would like to make a special mention for James Patterson. He is a brilliant writer who has been involved specifically in various programs to increase the love of reading amongst children and teenagers. I chanced upon a book of his, named ‘Don’t Blink’. If the idea of reading a full book fills you with dread, please. . . do yourself a favor and help yourself with this fast paced book. You will begin, you will reach half point and then you will find yourself on the last page in the blink of any eye. I promise.

Does a lot for self-confidence. (Oh! Oh! I see a finger being raised somewhere by someone who wants to question me of  my favoring some firangi author when our own Chetan Bhagat also does the same for reading since his books are, as I seem to have pointed out many times in this post, easy to go through and simple to digest. To you, man, or woman, I give a simple solution-  read both and decide for yourself what makes one different from the other.)

And how can I write a post on simple writing and not mention the heavy weight, the one and only Ruskin Bond. Bond is just brilliant. Even the thought of his books carries me away into the snow clad ranges of Himalayas and the villages situated at its foot with their slanting roofs and smoking chimneys. I am just humbled by this author's narrative intrigue. You always find yourself wondering at the beginning of his stories whether it will be any good because the words are so damn simple and straightforward but as you proceed, you find yourself caving in to his descriptions of nature so much so that you think- HECK! THIS AIN’T A BOOK, THIS IS A PAINTING I’M LOOKING AT!

Brilliant, I say again. Plain and simple brilliant.

The one Bond that I care about
So, here’s to the beginner reader, the learner, the novice. You are an empty goblet that wants to be filled to the brim . . .  and fast! So get out there and get to know of what it is that you seek to be poured into you.

Fragrant wine that doesn’t leave your insides even after decades of cleansing; that lingers within you like an immortal soul and makes you yearn for more and more of its taste?

Or just tap water.

Decide for yourself.

And enjoy! Because that’s what it is all about after all, isn’t it?


Tejas Chitre said...

This post must have the highest preface to actual recco ratio; not that I am complaining just prefacing the comment is all.

As an ardent fan of the Potter series I am appalled that there is a mob of people in this world who prefer Chetan Bhagat to J.K. Rowling. It like criticizing dark knight and loving transformers. Sanity, it seems, is always condemned to minority.

All other books - Bas naam hi kafi hai.

Percy Slacker said...

What a lovely post. Starting with a personal narrative, moving on the make a point and then getting to the recommendations. Structure, check, language, check, cuss words, check.

I can't recommend this enough for people who want to understand how to make the argument that Chetan Bhagat is not even a starting point to a literary journey. He's a distraction, a side-dish, sometimes edible, often not.

But JKR and the HP series was thoroughly enjoyable for itself, for language, plotting, the Hero's Journey and even, I would assert, the spells and the flying broomsticks. It all came together to make it enjoyable.

Unknown said...

I've been asked many times by friends to reccommend good reads for a beginner. Everytime, I get confused. Now, I'll just need to forward the link to this post.