I picked up a book last Saturday at a clearance-sale kind of thing in a mall. Imagine that –a clearance sale at a mall in Gurgaon! Any book for a 100 bucks kind of setup. Most of these were your usual bestsellers – but I happened to see something by Nick Hornby titled ‘How to be Good’. I’d bought a collected works of Nick Hornby around a year ago on Amazon (What I’ve been reading) and could hardly get through a decent portion of it considering most of it is irrelevant to an Indian audience. Anyways, I remember finding his style engaging, I thought the blurb on the back was interesting and it seemed to resonate with the kind of existential ennui that overpaid urban youth seem to be wallowing in. Hence bought.
Now over the past 6 months or so I’ve ‘bought’ a lot of books. I however can’t really come out and say that I’ve read a lot of books. At last quick count I can think of only 2 – Durbar (Tavleen Singh) and Don’t Let Him Know (Sandip Roy) which I’ve completely read. I have started reading too many to remember (Graham Greene, I’m looking at you amongst others) and of course there’re the aspirational reading material which you keep buying just because they’re real cheap on Flipkart.
So I decided that I will read this book. It isn’t too long (less than 300 pages). The first few pages suggested it was quite conversational and easy to read. I wasn’t expecting a terribly packed week at work. I didn’t have too many commitments at home. Hey, this shouldn’t take too long. A couple of days max? I actually started off well. Read the first evening – weekend evening – for around 70 odd pages. Couldn’t wait to pick it up again.
Except that it is really really difficult to pick up a book. The last week I’ve strained every ounce of time and I’ve still barely managed to plod across the finish line (page 283) on Sunday afternoon. Every evening after work there is some idiotic presentation that has to be worked upon for tomorrow. Some emails which have to be responded to. Some friends who you need to call back. Tickets which need to be booked. Family members who suddenly become remarkably chatty and exhibit sentimentality if you don’t display the energy to have long phone conversations. Wives who you would feel guilty for not helping with the housework. Groceries that need to be shopped for. Tickets which need to be booked. To-do lists which need to be updated.
And as any true HR worth his salt would know, behavior is a function of environment! So I did change my environment. Avoided doing too much office work at home – it’s HR, what difference is half a day going to make? When I realized my DTH pack doesn’t have Sony Six – I lived with it sacrificing the IPL. I sacrificed the IPL for God’s sake! #IndiaKaTyohaar. I didn’t have a broadband connection at home and I conveniently pushed off working on it to avoid any distractions. No TV series which I’m following on television either.
And like a million other people looking for first world problems have so succinctly observed – with the 3G connection which hovers around you everywhere. It took a conscious effort to not switch on and scroll through the Facebook app. To respond on the inane conversation happening in the Whatsapp group. To read some nice stuff someone’s shared on Twitter. To read that (every!) long article on Cricinfo. I’m not sharing all of this is a waste of time. Far from it. I’m a great believer in the Social Media being a filter for the larger internet. But the problem is it’s piecemeal. Or as they say in learning and development – it’s modular and snackable. Well modular and snackable doesn’t give you a sense of purpose. And something which can’t give you a sense of purpose can’t give you a sense of satisfaction. I read a blogger who had given up blogging to write a book. And I can relate to that now! If you keep reading 15 small articles a day you’ll never be able to read a book. Reading time is a limited resource. And I need to use it wisely. Immerse myself in it. Not choose it on the basis of ease of availability (which is where that little smartphone kicks ass) but on the basis of what to gain from it.
There’s merit in reading columns from the New York times and the Guardian and of course from Cricinfo and catching up with the tweets that cool senior who posts has. But I really want that sense of purpose. That sense of satisfaction, that nice feeling inside when you’ve achieved something. I know reading a book is not ‘achieving something’ but hey – I’m a lost guy who like everyone his age is going through a quarter life crisis, doing a job which brings home the bread and I’ll grab any purpose I can, thank-you-very-much.