Yesterday my friend Shankar Ganesh messaged me on LinkedIn. He was looking for an old answer of mine on Quora, an answer I had written in 2013 to the question ‘why do you love reading’.
I had actually deleted my Quora presence a year or so ago. I wanted to consolidate my writing online; was looking to create my own little space, like this one. But I had saved my answers. I had sent them to my mail, where they waited, I guess, for Shankar to remind me.
I sent my answer to him yesterday, and today, I’m putting it up here.
Why do you love reading?
I'll write three lines for you.
'My name is Sairam Krishnan. My friends call me Sai. My father was an officer in the Indian Air Force. I'm a small town boy, brought up in several Indian towns. I grew up on British classics and radar stations and jetplane specifications.'
There. What did you read? You read something about a boy from India, right? And there might be a few who never knew that there is such a person in some corner of the world, living a life like mine.
Well, now you do.
Reading is a window into another world, into lives and manifestations of it you never knew existed.
Have I ever been to Istanbul? No. But I know about 16th century Istanbul's coffee-houses and their connection to the time when the winds of radical Islam first blew into a peaceful religion and ended up impacting all of us. I read it in a book by Orhan Pamuk.
Do I know how it feels to be poor in America? No. But I know how they live, how they have to rely on community kitchens & handouts, how finding living space is expensive and almost impossible, how much physical and mental abuse they have to take. I read it in a book written by Barbara Ehrenheich.
Do I know the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland? Do I know how the shadows mingle with the smell of draught on cold Scottish evenings? No. But I know they do. I know how the old and the new are interchangeable in Scotland, and how evil transcends everything. I read it in Ian Rankin's Rebus books.
And I don't mean only books. This is what happens when you read anything, even a tiny passage like the one I wrote about myself. You know something. At that point, you are that person.
That is magic, isn't it? It is seductive, the ability to let your own mundane life behind, to become someone else, doing something else, something exciting and exotic, even if it is for just some time. Who said time travel doesn't exist? It does. And we travel across time each time we read history books and watch Robert Clive and Siraj-ud-Daulah meet at the Battle of Plassey.
I mean, how could you NOT love it? You are seeing things you never can in real life, learning so much, improving as a person, incorporating empathy, and so much more.
In the end, it’s the stories, it’s all about stories. The world, our memories and the way we look at other people, are all stories.
We are drawn to them anyway, stories are in our nature, and readers are just people who love them just that bit more.
I was tempted to edit it in many places, but I did not. It’s a wide-eyed 25 year old’s answer, and I don’t want a cynical, hardened 32 year old changing it in any way.
Some things are better left as they are.
Written in May 2020.