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A four year old child was asked whether he could read and write.

“I can write, but I can’t read” was the answer.

“Write something”. The child purses his lips, and with deep concentration, scribbles on the blank paper. Totally undecipherable.

“What have you written?”

“I told you – I can write, but I can’t read – so you read what I have written!”

This Christmas, Shen bought books as gifts for the family members. Not because he liked to read, but because he loved to write. And he didn’t want to be the child who could write, but not read. Reading is peaceful, and joyous. Just like the spirit of Christmas. Right?

Books are the best friends. He got this from the right source. His father. He emphasized this fact over and over. The best company, the friend who senses your moods and does the custom tailoring. “If you are in a foul mood, pick up P. G. Wodehouse; and if you are not feeling sleepy, pick up Homer’s Iliad!” was the sound advice.

“Why do you read the same book again, and again?” Saanvi, the wife quizzed him.

“Because I liked the book and the style and the plot; and many other reasons. Do I ask you why do you talk to your friends almost every day? You share the same jokes and stories and news (he did not use the word ‘gossip’). Books are my friends. Every time I read (even if it’s the same book), I find something relishing, refreshing and reinvigorating. I talk to my books, and they talk back to me…”

He realized he was talking to empty space, as Saanvi left in a huff. She is the person who read his love notes (sent about forty years ago) again, and again.

“Jonathan Livingstone, the seagull? Lovely. I read this book about 35 years ago – remember? We were fans of Richard Bach – and we read all his books that time?”

He was happy that she remembered.

“But do you remember the contents of the book? It was such a long time ago. Hence I brought this book to you – I remember you loved the philosophy, prose and the pictures in the book. Together we had memorized parts of the book. Do you remember?”

He remembered one of the favourite quotes both of them had memorized; and was about to recite it.

How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!

 “Are you trying to force me to read the book again?”

Suddenly, there was chill in the air – despite the gas fireplace throwing out the warmth everywhere. His plan to replace the word ‘fly’ with ‘read’ to amuse her – flew away.

“No dear, never. I wouldn’t dream of putting any pressure on you. You are already having so much stress – at work and home. No, never. By the way, did Gyan call today?”

He handled the situation deftly, and the ire was deflected from him to Gyan.

The BOOK remained on Saanvi’s to read pile by the television set. Lost in the large heap of newspaper clippings, magazines and other books. One fine morning, Shen removed the BOOK quietly from the pile; and put it on the pedestal bookshelf in his office. Nobody noticed, nobody cared – not even Jonathan Livingstone, the seagull.

Opening the book at random, he found yet another quote:

Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.

He smiled embittered – for him every gift had a problem!


January 19, 2019

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Last modified: March 30, 2023