Writers often like to come up with reasons why they write. Susan Sontag, in an introduction to a collection of essays I’m currently reading, writes:
“And one becomes a writer not so much because one has something to say as because one has experienced ecstasy as a reader.”
Perhaps there are as many reasons to write as there are writers in the world.
At the German class, my fellow classmate is of a different mould. Last week, in a session where we were asked to stage a mock interview on the topic of reading habits, he answered one of my questions with the German equivalent of “I am against reading novels”.
I thought he had got it wrong in German; I suggested that to say you are against something is to imply it not only for yourself, but for everyone in general. Did he really mean that?
He said he did. He thought it a waste of time, reading works of fiction: “It takes too much time; people ought to be spending it more constructively.”
“Watching movies?” I asked. In an earlier class he had expressed his liking for popular Bollywood cinema (and at the same time conveyed his dislike for movies like “Monsoon Wedding” and “Bend it like Beckam”).
“Sure.” he replied. “It’s good entertainment, and it doesn’t take too long.”
Our German teacher was surprised too, I noted with relief. He asked if this distaste for fiction would make him keep storybooks away from his children.
“I wouldn’t encourage them to read storybooks, but if they insist I wouldn’t stop them.”
It is a language course, yes, but I also learn tolerance.
We recently got the first copies (they sent the January and February editions together) of the National Geographic magazine. Late last year my wife and I decided to take up their reduced-price offer for first-time subscribers, and we had been waiting since some weeks for the yellow-bordered magazine to appear in our postbox. When it did, there was no yellow border; the magazine came wrapped in a brown envelope.
I remember being fascinated by the National Geographic since I was a child. My grandfather was a subscriber, and I spent a good part of our annual visit to his home flipping through its pages, gazing with marvel at the wonders of nature. As a teenager, I sometimes dreamed of working for the magazine, travelling to distant lands with a camera and a notebook and coming back with unforgettable pictures and mysterious stories from strange lands.
The first two editions have carried the same charm. It is also a humbling experience to contemplate the vastness and variety of our planet, and to recognize how little of it we have seen or know about. And for someone who is constantly in touch with the world of information, it is a reminder that there is a different world out there: composed not of bits and bytes but of atoms and molecules that make up our natural environment.
I have only one complaint: the magazine smells of paint, a chemical odour so strong it keeps distracting me while I read. But, I tell myself, you get used to odours in objects you love; which woman ever loved the first scent of her man?