How reading changed my lifeWhat began as a quirky decision to pick up a newspaper morphed into a lifelong reading habit
That day an underground group had called for Banda. It was the summer of 2010. I was in my 10th grade, juggling an insane amount of mathematics and literature for my SLC studies. The school I went to had a mathematics teacher who was famous for his inordinate obsession with mathematics; it would bring flocks of students from all over the district’s headquarters to his home. I was also a part of that proud herd. After devouring the then standard math textbooks, we would scour over other Nepali practice books. If all the Nepali practice books were solved, we would look across the borders to find difficult problems in the CBSE and other Indian boards. In other words, we were addicted to math.
That day, after hours of tuition, I was cycling down a quiet lane. There I found an angry man, in his 70s, yelling at a departing mob of masked youths who had just ransacked his shop. It was a Banda and the shops were closed. The old man had defied order and, sadly, had to pay for it. After the atmosphere cooled down and the crowd thinned, I came to see the damage his shop had suffered. Amid the chaos, I saw there a bundle of newspapers sitting quaintly in a corner. The old man was revolutionary in that he wanted to educate people about the changing times. The country had just sprung from the cusp of war; the Madhesi Aandolan and the identity-politics were relatively new topics at the time. When the crowds further subsided, I approached him, asking for a newspaper. He was reluctant and afraid. He mistook me, as he would later say, for a random student who had come to his shop for a daily horoscope reading. I had never read an English paper in my life until then. So, because of the misunderstanding, I had to leave the place without what I wanted.
A few days later, I came back; and this time, he was kind enough to let me purchase an English paper. In excitement, I remember peddling home as fast as I could. After reaching home, I found the most comfortable, noiseless place in the corner of the room. I unfolded it and leafed across every page. It was tantamount to reading a new book—the new odour and material overpowered me; the paper provided a strange type of excitement. Maybe it was a life devoid of any reading material beside out-dated course books that suddenly made me acknowledge this new finding. The newspaper, as I quite liked to believe then, was the amalgamation of the right-sized articles, not long enough to bog you down and not short enough to waste your time and energy. This motivated me to buy the paper the next day and slowly, this habit morphed into weeks and then months and years of reading.
This slowly but successfully brought a love for literature. We had no libraries or computers. Though the newspaper did not fill the void completely, it was nevertheless a welcoming addition to my life. It helped provide an edge to myself in a group of motivated students, who were ahead in math and science. I would often bring my newspaper in my classroom in a bid to flaunt it to my classmates but very few cared. So this habit even got more personal—as a means saving the identity of my 15 year old self.
My mother seemed wary at first since I was draining a constant sum of money by buying a plethora of papers across different publications every day. However, in the neighbourhood—unfortunately because of changing times—youths were suffering from a lack of freedom from their parents. Thus, they experimented in whatever that came their way, leading to stained teeth and bad breath. I had prepared a little gimmick to persuade my mother to take my side. I would spend my time during load-shedding under the curling smog of the kerosene lamp reading and annotating articles line by line, untroubled by the beads of sweat trickling down my chin. The dedication was organic—and the love newfound. Sometimes, I envy those times of unalloyed love, marinated and lost in an activity without a definite purpose, but only for a tickling, breathable satisfaction.
In retrospect, English has helped me enormously. I could get into a school of my dreams after my SLC, and even win some competitions there. It helped me open an entirely new world of Social Sciences, Anthropology, Political Science and Economics. When the colleges demanded personal essays, I could write my own without hesitation and, in many cases, help my friends with editing. Newspapers helped me evolve into a more critical, analytical self, which I feel happy about.
To sum up, reading newspapers moulded me an entirely different person than one which I was destined to be. It provided a much-refreshing break-up in the monotonous, quasi-lineal study track which our society has chosen as default for us: if one good in Science and Math, follow engineering or medical professions, whose trolls are apparently–with no offence–huge in supply. Today, my pieces get occasionally published in national dailies. Though I am yet to be satisfied, I see a newspaper as a metaphor for life: continuous and in search of truth and justice, adding to the repository of knowledge and experience.
The old man is still running his shop, and I cannot find the metaphor more fitting.
Gupta is an undergrad student in the US