By the age of twelve, I had already read a decent number of children’s classics and novels. Later that year, my paternal grandmother passed away, leaving their 22-year-old home empty. I had never been very close to my grandparents, so snooping around the house and rummaging through their stuff was out of question.
Now, both custom and ritual required us to stay at their place for a week or so. This obviously meant that the house and its belongings were no longer out of bounds for me. I came across a gem in the old tea cup sets and the numerous knickknacks that my grandmother had collected. It was a single-door mirror cupboard. The piece of furniture had an eerie, antique air about it.
I remember opening it out of sheer, almost irrepressible, curiosity, only to be left mildly disappointed. It contained stacks of ancient, dusty bed sheets, which were probably riddled with a million holes. However, down there, in its lower shelf, I could make out a couple of thick books coated in years worth of dust. One of them was non-fiction, so the pre-teen me put it back in its place, without so much as a thought. The other one had a woman’s name printed in a dainty font. Jane Eyre. The cover had the picture of a strange, sickly-looking woman in an old-fashioned attire. ‘She must be the eponymous character,’ I thought.
I flipped through the book. The stale pages had the tiniest print possible. I felt immediately intimidated, which was followed by the conclusion that I would never be able to read it. It was too big, too serious, and too scary for me. Even so, I did not feel like putting it back in the shelf. The strange lady seemed to beckon me with her sad spectral eyes.
I leafed through the pages. It was an edition printed around the 1940s. Now that really was fascinating! The book felt like a relic all of a sudden, which is what convinced me to carry it home with me. Of course, nobody seemed to care enough to object. Nobody seemed to even know to whom it belonged. I went home and happily incorporated it into my cherished collection of comics and Nancy Drews. In fact, that was the last time I would touch it for about a year.
Over time, my interest in literature seemed to grow, and somehow I stumbled upon the title Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. My fear of tiny prints and thick books gradually faded away. I soon found myself reading it. The newfound motivation was, however, short-lived as panic returned once I was past the first quarter of the book. It was tough and glum. Miss Jane was going through an incredibly depressing period in her life. It was too much for a girl my age, and I eventually gave up on the book. However, the book had not given up on me, yet. I would occasionally see it, or hear someone mention it. After all, that is what sets a timeless classic apart from an average, one-time read!
For someone who had recently started priding herself on her reading proclivities, I just could not bring myself to run away from Jane Eyre. This time, I resolved to finish the novel, no matter what. Coincidentally, the book now felt a lot more refreshing and intriguing. Miss Jane had started to transform from a depressed, forlorn girl into a lady of intelligence and independence. Her persona was shrouded in a lot of mystery. It was just so wild! I found it impossible to put the book down. And with my annual exams fast approaching, that was not good news.
My father wanted me to stop fooling around with a so-called classic and get back to studying. I refused point-blank. He was not very pleased, which was more out of concern than anger. Anyways, I kept at it. I just had to finish the book, and it was not just down to how engrossing the plot had suddenly become.
You see, my mother had managed to strike a deal with me – I had to finish the entire book in 3-4 days’ time and then invest all my time and energy in preparing for my exams. I took on the challenge gladly. I read and read and read, almost like a person possessed. In fact, I detested being called away for lunch – or dinner, for that matter. The chatterbox me did not want to interact with anyone!
Finally, I was able to finish the book in four days. It was no mean feat. It had, after all, been my first serious, grown-up read! I could now officially claim to have graduated from The Secret Seven and Nancy Drew. They were all enjoyable too, but had ceased to challenge me. That was the day I had stepped into the world of many wonderful books, which would go on to open my eyes and heart. They would take me to unbelievable places, and teach me about the people around me and even myself.
I believe that our lives have changed. We have become busier, more distracted in our relentless pursuit of that white, fluffy cloud called success. Reading with uninterrupted passion has almost became a memory of yesteryear. To be carelessly young, lying in a bed on an early summer afternoon, reading without having to care about anything in the world – that truly is bliss, something our future generations will dearly miss.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS
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