Monday, August 14, 2017

Helping Yourself.


When I was younger I was convinced that those who read non-fiction for anything other than course/academic related were people of the 'dry-est' sort with no imagination. These people didn't enjoy reading in my mind but were merely attempting to add things to the cv that their mind was. I was convinced that the very 'pointlessness' of fiction - good or bad- made it superior to all other writing. This is possibly why I spent so much of my time reading almost anything that I could find - I wasn't a snob. I read all of Chetan Bhagat till that half-girlfriend book. I was in LSR at that point of time, I did know better. I didn't even like his books but I felt it was important to know what he was upto, considering he was part and parcel of the mass culture of reading in my country. To have an opinion, you must consume.

I'm quite tempted to dislike this judgemental younger version of myself but as I am doing this 'being-kind-to-yourself' thing, I have been able to understand why I felt so. When I was young and reading voraciously (i.e. before class tenth when there was little time to read beyond the couple of books you did), availability of non-fiction was non-existent. My mother read a lot but she mostly read Hindi literature. My school library had a tightly controlled and unfriendly system of loaning books and where I lived, you couldn't find a good bookstore for miles let alone a lending library. So I read paperbacks, and abridged versions of classics as we trudged all the way to Hazratganj Universal for those biannual or triannual trips to buy books. My mother was indulgent and would buy me many books. Non-fiction, was expensive to buy in comparison- much more so. I've always hated yearning for things that are beyond my power to provide - so I rationalized that I don't like non fiction, instead of accepting that I didn't have access to any. I have been like that about anything which is why the unraveling of my self confidence today is no joke - I cannot blatantly lie to myself as I did earlier.
Anyway, between the two of us, Isha Singh and I would share books and read quite a bit of those cheaper versions of old classics available out of copyright. She used to love Egyptian history I remember and we had these horrible, barely adequate scholastic books we used to spend quite a bit of money on to indulge our other reading interests. I remember I spent all of my  class sixth lunch breaks reading this excellent encyclopedia on Greek myths. I wish we were allowed to issue those books. We spent many lunch breaks there - there was this beautiful biography on Rajiv Gandhi by Sonia Gandhi which had wonderful pictures that we would pore over.

By the time I learnt how one could download books from the internet, I was well into the dreaded board exam years. I remember I read all of Gone with the Wind - all thousand pages of it on the home monitor.  But there was little time for creating newer interests in light of work, debating and talking to boys on yahoo messenger.

 Now of course as a by-product of my academic reality, I have done my fair share of reading non-fiction. I can read anything - histories, philosophical treatises, difficult to understand theoretical works, pulpy bollywood and other celebrity autobiographies etc. Anything at all that is, except self-help books. I was convinced that books like 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' and Paulo Coelho and the plethora of MBA related self help books were what insured that people stopped reading altogether. I did read a couple of Coelho who was to be fair not self help,  but mostly because my sister was part of that MBA crowd and copies of his books were lying around my house. More than anything, I didn't understand how people could believe in the superiority of someone base enough to make money out of helping people. I don't like people who pretend to know things and have the formula for anything. I could not understand why people would choose to believe advice given by someone they did not know and who certainly did not know them. I was still young enough to believe in things like 'originality' , 'individual will' and trudging along the hard path of introspection to find answers.

Today  I downloaded my first self-help type book. I was reading a wonderful book by a youtuber (which is generally a horrible genre of books). It's called Buffering by Hannah Hart. It reads amazingly well and as Hart is one of the smarter people on Youtube (who made a wonderful video on depression which I love), I was curious to see her verbosity translate into the written word. She recommended some excellent books to understand depression and anxiety - and I was motivated enough to read one called 'Driven to Distraction' .I am certainly sure that I do not have the answers anymore and I am no longer confident enough to believe that I will be able to find my own unique solutions. I will take any help, any that can assist in whatever way.  I am trying to see it less as a crutch for the vestiges of my self esteem and more as being invited to a buffet style dinner and then being asked to help yourself. I hope it will be advice where you can, like in a buffet, find what you like and take as much or as little of it according to your desire. This preserves agency, obviously. I think there is great choice, adaptability and intuition involved in the advice you do choose to heed to and it is not the death knell of all originality or creativity as I used to imagine- here's hoping at least.

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