The Proper Reader

One of the few good things, as some may argue, that have come out of this age of digitisation, is a great increase in the reader population of the planet. Be it non-fiction, fine literature, high or low fantasy, young adult or even Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga (which, in fact, does merit a category of its own), reading has taken a great leap to the top spots amongst the hobbies of people today, along with masturbation and binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. And so the writers are happy because they are being read more, and the readers are happy because there is more to read. But, as is the unfortunate case with the world we live in, someone is ALWAYS unhappy. So, in this day and age, WHO is that someone?

That someone is the Proper Reader. That someone is a person who understands the intricacies of language, appreciates the magnificent beauty of fine literature, and finds him or herself unable to withstand the torture being inflicted upon young and older minds alike under the guise of literature.

And why is it, you may ask, that we must conform our choices and preferences in reading to the opinions of this unknown, self-proclaimed and more or less snobbish “Proper Reader”, so to speak? What makes this Proper Reader qualified enough to tell us what literature is good and bad, and indeed what makes some things literature and other things not? Who is this Proper Reader to tell us that works such as My Name Is Red and Norwegian Wood are finer pieces of literature than, say, the atrocities of Chetan Bhagat, or the Casio scientific calculator manual which has never to this day been fully perused?

Experience is the answer, to put it rather metaphorically and in one word. It is the vast experience which the Proper Reader has which allows him or her to discern good quality writing from the hogwash which can be seen commonly floating around the Internet and in the regular columns of printed dailies. And this experience isn’t garnered by glancing over the new threads and notifications on GoodReads, though that is a great place to start. No, that experience comes from flipping page after page of aeons of the written word, learning to appreciate the finesse of a seasoned writer and acquiring the art of telling the skilled pen apart from the hastily typed up sob story written by exhausted individuals looking to kill some time.

Of course, the real question on all our minds is, how does it really matter? Through books, if indeed James Dashner authored onslaughts can be so called, we are provided with entertainment and amusement, and we get to learn something, even though it may be very, very little. So how does it matter if we only read the hogwash, and leave the most intricate works for scholars and people who don’t have to go to 25th-floor, morning jobs trampling through the subway? So what if we are content with The Devil Wears Prada and would rather read Eat Pray Love than Madame Bovary?

At this point, the Proper Reader, assuming he or she hasn’t had a fatal heart attack, would promptly rise and display before us a picture of the Eiffel Tower, and then show the image of a garbage heap in the corner of a dark alley. The Proper Reader would then ask us: “why do you gaze upon the Eiffel Tower with such awe and admiration, and not even give a second glance to the pile of garbage? If you need something to look at, something for your eyes to do while you dine or chat with friends, then why not just stare at the garbage and contend yourself?” And, of course, the Proper Reader would be right.

It is about the preservation of the unique and the brilliant. It is about appreciation of the art and talent of individuals who have given their life to creating something for the world to admire. But more than any of that, it is about exposing ourselves to that which not only makes us better individuals but also makes us a smarter and overall better civilisation. If we cannot, at this stage of brilliance, appreciate the talents of the Jules Verne and Charles Dickens above the likes of John Grisham, then what right do we carry of calling ourselves civilised?

It is our duty as men and women of knowledge to distinguish the extraordinary from the mundane, to revere the fine above the brutish and to elevate the former so high that when the oceans of ignorance sweep over our existence, we are purged of the latter. We must commit our cause to these higher beings, who have given us such treasures which we may behold, and may one day look upon and beam with pride as we recognize that we belong to the civilisation which created them.

All that said and done, HOW does one gain this experience, without spending an eternity absorbed in books? Isn’t there an easier way out, the chance to appreciate the peaks of literary perfection without having to slog through trilogies of overdone sex stories turned into catastrophic movies starring Jamie Dornan in a less than flattering role?

The answer, if not already obvious by the hinted sarcasm in the question posed above, is no. However, we don’t have to go through all works which have been deemed great over the course of history to find the epitome of good literature. All that we need to do is incorporate some of these revered texts into our daily lives and to see how much of a difference they make. Just replacing one subpar novella with a collection of O. Henry short stories will be the change of a lifetime, and from there on, the journey through the world of literature is, literally (so to speak) endless.

We only need to pick up that one literary book which gets us by the guts and drags us down to a literary Nirvana which we could never have found without the guidance of that particular writer. Sure, the first “great” book that we pick up may not do the trick for us, but we must keep trying, and therein lies the secret of the Proper Reader. The Proper Reader is relentless in his or her pursuit to find that literary work which transcends time and space, and places the reader firmly within the mind of the writer, allowing there to be flawless communication of beautiful thought and feeling.

The Proper Reader, were he or she able to address you, would surely just say this. Put down whatever insignificant story you are pretending to engage in at the moment, and ruffle the pages of history to find the writing which calls to you. Just give it a chance. Allow the timeless work of a beautiful mind to remain timeless, and prevent it from being swallowed up and buried beneath miles of neglect. The Proper Reader, and the human civilisation, and maybe even the universe, would be forever thankful to you.

In honour of the written word…

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It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird

Why was this post not published yesterday, seconds after the news of her death rattled the world? Because there are times, albeit very few, when the mind is enslaved by the heart. The mind will know what must be done and when, but the heart will put a stop to it, it will put shackles around those thoughts and force you to just feel for a second, and that second will never end.

Barely a month after souls were ripped from their bodies across the globe at the traumatic news of Alan Rickman’s death, another grave tragedy has befallen us. Death has gotten used to the taste of benevolent souls, and has forgotten that balance must be maintained in the world. For the first time in my life, I am angry with Death for being greedy, for wanting the best for itself.

She was old. Unlike with the death of Alan Rickman, the shock factor wasn’t dominant here. Maybe that is the reason the thought of Alan Rickman only crossed my mind while I was writing this post: the emotions associated with both their deaths are so different that it makes no sense to draw analogies. And so, of course, I will be helpless in drawing analogies.

On the day of Rickman’s death, I remember feeling thoroughly cheated. I felt angry, shaken, shocked to my core, and more upset than I can explain. Yesterday, though, there was a kind of resignation in the sorrow that I felt. I knew that this day was coming, and I was prepared for the bombshell to drop, and so there was no great shock to mask the sorrow. Yesterday, I felt truly sad after a long time. I felt sad like I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was the raw force of the sadness, unmasked by any other emotion, which I think was so crippling, causing the delay in this post.

I had first read “To Kill a Mockingbird” sometime in the middle of seventh grade, and had taken an instant liking to Scout. Little did I know that Scout was more or less a spitting image of her creator. Over the years, Scout and I have come to be the best of friends, and Harper Lee was like out guiding figure, a motherly presence watching as her brainchild went ahead and made friends. Two years after reading the life-altering book for the first time, I got to know Harper Lee well, due to an assignment set to us in English class.

It was easy to get to know her. I suppose it was because I knew Scout so well by then that learning about Harper Lee was just like having another conversation with Scout. Lee was a firm presence throughout my life from that point onwards, and I was secure in knowing that a wrinkly woman somewhere in the US was alive and well.

When her book came out last year, I was nothing short of elated. Getting to see her in action again was surreal! My expectations weren’t well rewarded, however, and I decided that the only memories I wanted to have of Lee were those related to her original work. All was good yet again: tarnished memories had been forgotten, disagreements had been resolved, and Scout and I were on speaking terms once more.

Then I logged into my computer yesterday evening, and things took a turn for the worse. Amidst a horde of news items about the JNU fiasco (which did nothing to alleviate my foul mood) was a single story, saying something along the lines of: “Harper Lee dies at 89”. I don’t well recall the events immediately following this one, and I don’t think I want to. Something seemed to have slipped inside: not broken, but slipped. Broken implies shattering, or an unforeseen even causing irreparable damage. No, this was different. Something had slipped, and I still don’t know what it is, or where it’s slipped from, or where it’s slipped to. Maybe I’ll find it someday and place it back, who knows?

“Harper Lee is currently thriving at the remarkable age of 84” is how I had concluded my presentation that day in English class. Death, it seems, took my remark of “remarkable” as a challenge. Death does that sometimes, in an attempt to prove itself omnipotent, it uses our words to play with us. It’s sad, really.

And so something slipped. Something was wrong. The feeling of being hollowed out will take some getting used to, which is exactly what I say every time something disturbing happens. I don’t have a problem wrapping my head around the fact that she’s gone, as I did with Rickman. But here, there is something which I’ve never felt before, and hope to never feel again, because it’s a very permanent feeling with no end in sight. That feeling, the simple feeling which is much less insidious than others but sticks on forever, is a feeling of impending nothingness, the “what not” state if you will.

So, what now?

Death has taken a step out of line this time, because whatever may have happened, one thing is undeniable: It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Those who remain are loyal to you

Today is as dark a day as there ever was. No, there wasn’t the declaration of another World War. No, the stock market didn’t crash. No, there wasn’t the outbreak of a lethal disease. No, there wasn’t a terrorist attack on a city causing great casualties. No, today something happened which is far worse than any of these events. Today, in the truest sense of the word, a light has gone out.

The world has played host to a most unfair event today. The passing away of Alan Rickman is an event, not to be mourned, but to be violently fought against. But Death doesn’t care. It cares not for emotion or sentiment or justice. It comes to all, and comes when it wishes, and there is nothing we can do about it, except mourn. And so, death has taken the second brother for his own.

But far more than this, a light has gone out. Of course, Alan Rickman was a legend. A greatly talented actor and a very inspirational person, but the child in me doesn’t care about all that. The young boy in me knows only one thing: this is the second time we’ve lost Severus Snape. Yes, it was inevitable, and yes, it’s silly to get so worked up over the death of a person who we didn’t know personally, but emotions never been slave to logic, and they don’t intend to start now.

And yet it’s not just that. For years now, the Harry Potter generation has debated extensively over the character of Snape, arguing as to whether he should be revered as the bravest man in the Potter Universe, or condemned as petty and vindictive. None of that, however, really matters now; not today, not in this context. Alan Rickman wasn’t the “book Snape”, whose nobility is questionable at best. Alan Rickman brought the character to life in a way none of us could have believed possible. For a second, we can fathom hating Rowling’s Snape, but we have nothing but admiration for Rickman’s, because there were no flaws in him. He was perfect.

Today, the world cries as a whole. No, that is not an exaggeration; that is the final word of the child in me, whose world revolves around the Harry Potter Universe, whose life is just one train ride away from Hogwarts, who can lose this make believe world of Muggles and return, by page or big screen, to the world where we really belong. Alan Rickman was perhaps the greatest champion of that world, and that world will never, ever, be the same again.

Yes, I am foolishly emotional about this event, and no, I have no regrets. I care not for the accolades he received in theatre or in film, nor the countless characters which he brought to life, but only for the ten years of his life for which he was our Snape, my Snape. His loss will be forever a burden upon my chest for the simple fact that his was the face that made me want to return to the series again and again.

The greatest understatement of all is to say that he will be missed. You cannot miss something that you cannot live without. You cannot miss something which cannot be forgotten, and you, sir, will never be forgotten. How can we forget Alan Rickman, who has been the symbol of a hidden hero for millions across the globe, for years and years? How can we ever forget Alan Rickman, who made us fall in love with a murderer, and who we still cannot see as anything other than our beloved despicable Potions Master, anyone other than the evil Slytherin with greasy black hair parted in curtains?

The fact remains, though, that he is gone. Most of us will know of this fact already, because the Internet works faster than the Owl Post. The Potterheads will mourn this loss for days, maybe weeks to come, but then they too will get over it. But there will be those few of us, those of us for whom he was not a character, or an actor, or any other thing which people claim he was. We will never let him go, even if we were able to, because he’s an emotion to us, and we are weak and dependent on this emotion for carrying our lives.

And so, there is but one thing to do, as we wait on the King’s Cross station that is our despair. We must wait, and we must wait some more, and then, when it seems as though the fire has died and the lives of the blissfully ignorant have been restored to normal, those of us who still feel must take board a train. A train that will take us on.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt from losing myself in Harry Potter, it’s that those who love us never really leave us. Armed with this deluded sense of faith, we will hold on to the memories which make us who we are: the proud generation which have stuck by Harry till the very end.

Sir, you remain in our hearts. Always.

J.K. Rowling and her unhealthy obsession with her brainchild

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

This is perhaps the most touching and comforting statement made by JK Rowling till date, concerning the world famous Harry Potter series at least. This particular announcement by her warranted many tears shed in joy and admiration of the lady who singlehandedly changed the definition of childhood for the entire world. I don’t need to tell you, I’m sure, that there isn’t “a child in the world who doesn’t know his name”.

Of course, if you’ve been following this blog through the past year, you’ll know that I am absolutely devoted to the series. If you haven’t been following it, let me tell you that I am absolutely devoted to the series, and trust me when I say that I am. You can take a religious man’s faith away from him faster than you can take my obsession of Harry Potter from me. And so, armed with that knowledge, I hope you fully appreciate how difficult it is for me to say the following words:

J. K. Rowling needs to quit it.

For years I have been a devout follower of Rowling, belonging to that sect of society which called her “Queen Rowling” and clung on to her every word as though it were spoken from the mouth of God (Richard Feynman for us atheist folk). I was crushed when the series ended because the best part of my life had now finished and it seemed for the longest time that there would be nothing new to look forward to. So, when Rowling’s interviews regarding the series began cropping up here and there, I could be found blowing Internet data on the same.

But then, as countless poets and other less wise folk have said before, you can never have too much of a good thing. Perhaps propelled by the great reception she received for the tidbits she dropped about the series, Rowling decided to launch Pottermore, which is, as any true Potterhead will consent, the single greatest mistake of the fantasy world (the Twilight Saga notwithstanding). Pottermore, which started off as a way for obsessive Potterheads (ahem) to relive the adventure, soon turned into the gigantic pain that is forced information. Kudos to the IT team for creating the prettiest assassin of any fantasy series ever.

Pottermore, it would turn out, was the first of many mistakes. First, but by no means the least. Rowling thought it fit, for reasons I cannot possible even begin to comprehend, to announce that she’d rather Hermione have ended up with Harry than Ron. Oh the uproar! Fans all over the place started justifying their opinions to one another, turning a beautiful romance into the subject of a Security Council session. Indeed, those who see Harry and Hermione as the better couple (yet again, who knows why) got their perfect argument: “If Rowling herself says it, they’re OBVIOUSLY the better couple”.

Shocker.

Then came the profiles. Hallowe’en last year saw the life sketch of Dolores Umbridge, giving the most hated person in Potterverse a chance to be human, which was the last thing we wanted. Umbridge used to represent the very image of annoyance and hatred, before Rowling went ahead and softened her up for us by playing the messed up childhood card. And more and more and more stories of characters and places and all before and after the events of the seven books were spouted like an incessant stream of vile poison by the woman we once considered to be the greatest thing to happen to fantasy since Tolkien.

At last, with the most Hades-ish twist imaginable, Rowling decided that our souls meant nothing next to the popularity of her precious series. She announced on the seventeenth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, that she would be apologising for each of the deaths she feels sorry for. It’s like she’s decided to exhume the bodies of the characters who became closer to us that kith and kin, say: “I’m sorry you had to die”, and left the bodies to rot in the sun. Trust me, I do not exaggerate; that is an understatement if anything.

That was the final nail in the coffin. Whatever little redemption I had been saving for Rowling went flying out the window, on a Thestral no less. Rowling, in her vain attempt to keep the series fresh in our minds, has been pulling off tricks which do nothing more or less than to drive us away from her. We understand that the HP series helped her out of a difficult time and that it’s difficult for her to let go of it, but she needs to understand that once she allowed readers to cry their eyes out at the last word of the last book, she relinquished the right to use the series as her own personal crutch.

Harry Potter has been more than a fantasy series for people to enjoy. It has been a friend, a parent, a support system, a voice to allow us to differentiate between right and wrong. Most of us aren’t obsessed with the series because it’s a brilliant work of art; we are devoted to it because it has touched our lives and souls in a way that nothing else has, or ever can. We grew up with these people, ate with them, learnt with them, laughed and cried with them and lived with them. When Rowling decides that she wants to make these radical announcements, it’s as though she’s taking our innermost feelings and making a public display out of them, which we just don’t like.

Now for those who aren’t as hopelessly glued to the series as us, lucky them. If you DO consider the HP series just as a work of fantasy which you’ve learnt to enjoy for indescribable reasons, you’ll agree to this. Any fantasy series, or story for that matter, is dependent upon its readers and their imagination. The work only stays alive and growing for as long as its readers are actively debating and discussing the story. When you give us every last detail, you put a stop to the wonderful imagination of the millions who want to keep the series alive in their own little ways. You kill all those fans and all their fantasies, and you have no right to do that once you’ve given the series to them.

J. K. Rowling, brilliant that she is, has perhaps forgotten that fundamental rule of fantasy. Whereas we love reading more and more writing from her, we’d really appreciate it if she didn’t make it about Harry Potter. Dear Joe, you’ve done your part, and beautifully at that, but now let us keep the series alive. It’s time for you to let it go. Trust us, we’ll keep it alive.

Comments are welcome.