By Tinky Ningombam
“We live for Books” said Umberto Eco once and how right he was, even for small time bibliomaniacs like me. Of course, my work and my daily internet obsession leaves little time for me to finish a book a day (sic) but I try to read at least once before I hit the sack. Indeed, what better sleeping draughts than the flipping of fresh pages. So like all book-lovers, I love to have my bedside constantly filled with a fresh lot of books that I would doze off with and maybe manage to complete before they dog-ear to shatters.
For me novels have been a constant companion and have offered me solace many a times when everything else failed to reconcile my wandering mind. I believe in the power of the word, that there is no book from which we do not learn a thing. But for my biased love I will add that a book will always hold a deeper meaning for you and will surprise you with greater truths every time you read it anew.
All book-lovers will fondly recount the phenomenal books that have shaped the person they are today. And even though it is a never-ending list, I will take you through the 10 books that I fondly recall as the most memorable in my life till now.
#1 The Bible
Brought up in a Christian school like Nirmalabas, I started reading excerpts from the Bible and monthly series of stories of biblical characters. Besides being fascinated by the simple anecdotes and the grand narrative of the birth of life as we know it, I could connect to the concept of the father, the son and the Holy Ghost in a more metaphysical level than was deemed possible in my tiny head. For me, my existential questions about “why we came to this world?” and “what happens next?” seemed to have been answered in the testaments that I would gingerly brush through. What happened in the next 10 agnostic years have surely made me unlearn most of it but fundamentally this was a book that made me believe in the fear of evil and the triumph of the good.
#2 As you Like it – Shakespeare
Shakespeare came to me like a blessing in disguise. My sheer love of all things Shakespeare lead me to borrow the graphic abridged version of the play “As you like it” in my eight grade and this is when I discovered my love for the liberal arts and the art of performance.
“All the world`s a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts …”
#3 The Fountainhead- Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead succeeded all my young obsessions. I found true love in the guise of Howard Roark, the genius architect who would not compromise on his artistic creativity and “stood against the world” defending his singular purpose of life that he believed in : the idealistic worship of the heroic human spirit –
“…Look at history. Everything thing we have, every great achievement has come from the independent work of some independent mind. Every horror and destruction came from attempts to force men into a herd of brainless, soulless robots. Without personal rights, without personal ambition, without will, hope, or dignity. It is an ancient conflict. It has another name: the individual against the collective”.”
#4 The Shadow Lines – Amitav Ghosh
My first year in college introduced me to a host of amazing Indian writers, Amitav Ghosh being one of them. Through the story of the protagonist, I found myself asking the same questions of self-identity and like him went through a self-introspection of my own indigenous roots.
#5 Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Caroll
I have always loved Alice but this book reached the deep recesses of my mind and struck a chord in the interrogative and questioning child in me. And unlike what others like to believe it to be, as a simple child’s story-book in the stories of Alice in Wonderland, this book held innumerous puzzles and deeper meanings. Many believe that the author intended it to be encrypted and unraveled only with clues that each reader would unveil. Suddenly I too wanted to be “not understood in my own lifetime”. Being mysterious and cryptic was never this alluring and I started seeing more of me in Alice and more of Alice in me. And honestly hoped that my life should be someone else’ dream.
#6 The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
`And, when you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.` The first time I read the book, it brought so many beautiful insights that I had overlooked in life. More anecdotal and preachy than others, this story of the boy Santiago of finding his symbolic destiny managed to leave behind optimistic thoughts about human life and the spiritual and cosmic realities that we constantly question.
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked.
“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you will find your treasure.”
#7 The Awakening – Kate Chopin
Edna Pontellier is an obedient wife and mother but through the book, she begins to unravel her inner self to find the independent distinctive female voice that she had stifled for years. This classic story of her strong character and the re-discovery of herself should be every feminist’s favorite. This definitely became mine.
#8 The Secret – Rhonda Bryne
More a self-help book, this book talks about how “like attracts like” and that people can attract whatever they desire into their lives, be it fame, success or happiness. For me, it created the seed for an optimistic path for personal goal-setting. While many critics opposed the idea of an easy route to success and an exaggeration of the power of will, if read with clear reasoning The Secret manages to build positive thoughts for a better day to look ahead to.
#9 1984- George Orwell
If Pink Floyd gets inspired from Orwell, there can be no buts about it. 1984 is coined as the masterpiece that killed Orwell and uncannily so, I do believe that it would be hard predecessor to top with another book. The book is set in a dystopian society called Oceania which is terrorized by a totalitarian regime and by the all-pervasive “Big Brother”. It is the beauty of this world and the impossible fight of the righteous against oppression that grips the hearts of the million fans such as me, who even though in the grim ambience of the novel finds hope in the one voice that stands up against it.
#10 The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera
If George Orwell and Gabriel García Márquez had evoked my love for social satire and magic realism, Kundera managed to impress the amicable bright-eye imaginative rebel that I pride myself to be. Kundera’s book was strange and yet fascinating that it left a question mark that I can only answer when I read more of him. For him laughter was ironically the most bitter form of human emotion and “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.
(Tinky is an avid experimental reader but has a fond weakness for murder mystery novels and conspiracy theories. She also has the annoying habit of judging other readers by their choice of books, however discreetly.)