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How To Read A Book

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I have been reading a book by Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read A Book. The book was first published in the early months of 1940. I am reading the revised version of the book that came out in 1972. This version is co-authored by Adler and Charles Van Doren.

A friend introduced me to a chapter from this book by a friend, How to Make a Book Your Own. In this text he advocates such a reading of a text that it enters your bloodstream and becomes a part of your self.

In my last post, I talked about my teacher’s teacher. An interaction with him informs you how well he has read the text that even after 40-50 years of reading it, he can quote from the book. I want to read a book like him. Adler discusses the steps to become such a reader. I read this chapter more than once. Inspired by his convincing and authoritative style of writing, I decided to buy the book.

This revised version of the book is even better. It is a fat book of 418 pages. It is a compelling read especially today when we are increasingly losing the capacity to read. I will write more about the book once I finish reading it.

From Writing First Draft to Re-writing: Note to Self

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I began my writing journey with the fear of writing. I would do most mundane tasks to put off writing. Gradually, I overcame this fear by forming a habit of writing everyday. It was an uphill task and it took me more than a year to start writing everyday. This exercise made me comfortable with writing. I am not saying that I write everyday now but I find it comparatively less difficult and I write quite regularly. This was the first milestone in my writing journey.

I reached my second milestone when I began reading Paris Review Interviews. These interviews taught me to perceive writing as essentially re-writing. It is in the process of re-writing that we gain control over our writing. This idea inspired me to begin my first big writing project. My research for this project was complete and I had ideas I just needed to sit down and write. My first draft was prepared with a lot of anxiety, agony and physical labour in two months. I have written about this experience in my previous posts. The joy of being able to put your thoughts in words in the way I wanted inspired me further and kept me going.

By the time I finished, I was drained physically, emotionally and mentally. I could not sit to read and write further. Then I decided to take some rest. During this time, I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I also looked through some other texts but I did not engage with anything. In retrospect, maybe I should have. It would have kept me going. I was still writing everyday, mostly writing my journal. However, as time went by, I became more and more relaxed in my reading writing routine.

Now it is time for the third milestone and I find myself procrastinating. Like the first one, I have been delaying it for two months now. This time I fear it because it is a humongous task. However, it is most essential. It is the task Paris Review Interviews taught me, that is, re-writing. I have to read my work sentence by sentence and edit or rewrite it. I think I am facing two roadblocks. Firstly, reading triggers writing and I am not spending enough time in reading. Secondly, I realized re-writing like writing requires practice. Cultivating a habit of re-writing everyday along with reading and writing will gradually improve my editing skills.

At present, I am struggling to re-write and edit my writing. In each attempt, I struggle with new kinds of grammatical and pragmatic issues in language. Sometimes, I struggle with the use of ‘but’ or semi-colon, or the issue of re-writing the entire paragraph to make it more accessible and coherent.

My writing journey has been slow. Struggle that accompanies each of these milestones appear daunting in the beginning and requires a lot of hard work and discipline. Sometimes, I want to quit. But the silver lining is that reaching a milestone assures me that I am moving in the right direction. It is this struggle that makes me feel alive.

Favour: A Malignant Tumour

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‘Favour’ seems to be a very innocent and positive term. But in practice it is a malignant tumour, which is hard to diagnose and when discovered it is too late for treatment. It multiplies uncontrollably. It dominates other cells by suffocating them and then it kills them or converts them. Gradually, it kills the patient.
Let me deconstruct this term for you. Dictionary meaning of the term ‘favour’ is ‘an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual’. By asking for favour a person becomes vulnerable in front of the person giving favour. She is then obligated to return the favour. One must note that in the definition itself, favour is described as an act of kindness that is beyond what is due or usual. Why would anybody help you beyond what you deserve? But before answering that question, let us just take a moment to think that if this person who is asking for favour does not deserve it then, is he taking something away from a person who deserves it? What becomes of the person who deserves it but does not get it because somebody else received it as a favour?
I have grown up hearing ‘there is no such thing as free lunch’. So, obviously now this person who has been favoured will have to return the favour. In the doing so, another person who deserves something will be deprived to accommodate this person. This goes on and on. If an institution has one such person who has this habit, he or she will bring another and attract a few others. The circle becomes bigger and bigger with each favour. Soon the institution has a number of people who have been favoured, in other words, who do not deserve this place but by an act of kindness were accommodated snatching it away from someone who deserved it.Can an institution survive with so many ‘favoured’ people?
Now what happens to the people who do not agree with this policy of giving and receiving favours? They are sidelined and are often part of the collateral damage. They are suffocated till the time they die or are converted. Converts, we all know, are never really included in the group. So what happens to the institution?

Pushkar Fair: Story Behind This Picture

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Camel With His Friend

The moment captured by a camera often has a story hiding in it, which only the people involved are aware of. This photograph also has a story. I clicked it a few years ago in Pushkar, small town in Rajasthan during the camel fair. It was a business trip for my sister and I was accompanying her. At the last minute, she suggested changing our itinerary to include a visit to Pushkar Fair. Pushkar was around 20 km from Ajmer city where we were staying. Our plan was to go to Bhilwara, a district in Rajasthan, which was on the other side of Ajmer. I was not interested in looking at camels and other livestock put up for sale. So I fought hard to but I failed and so, as soon as we reached Ajmer, we booked a cab for Pushkar without taking rest.

Afternoon was too sunny for the month of November. Since it was a last minute plan, I did not have time to gather information on Pushkar. The route to Pushkar was scenic. We crossed Aravalli, the oldest mountain range in India. Sun played hide and seek with us when we crossed the mountain range. We crossed a famous Dargah on the way, which marked our entry into Pushkar. Then after more than half an hour, our driver pointed out Pushkar temple. It is the only temple built in the honour of Lord Brahma, one of the Hindu Gods. We did not stop anywhere. As we were reaching closer to Pushkar, sun was becoming unbearable. Finally, we saw colourful stalls on both sides of the road. Then the driver stopped the car and told us that this is the Pushkar Fair ground and we should call him when we are done.

We got down. Pushkar Fair ground was on the outskirts of the town. Then we started admiring the colours of the hand made decorative objects. Suddenly, I felt as if the ground was sucking my feet in and the sand was getting in my shoes, covering my feet. I looked down irritated and shook my feet one by one to get rid of the sand. But then it happened again. The stalls were hiding the reality of scene.

Finally, we decided to walk inside the ground. Still troubled with my sand covered feet, I was looking down, instead of looking in the front. The sun was so harsh that my sister was also very inattentive lost in her bag looking for an umbrella. Finally, we both looked up and what we saw was unimaginable and overwhelming for both of us.

All we could see was sand all around us. We turned and looked around and then looked at each other. Then we again turned around and finally we simultaneously said, ‘Desert’. The stalls, which initially appeared to be hiding the reality looked so small in front of the vastness of the space. Endless open space covered with sand, yes, it was a desert. We were standing in the desert.

This was our first experience of desert and it was overwhelming. That’s the day I clicked this picture. It was clicked on the ground where camel and horse races are held during the fair. In the background are men from all over Rajasthan and neighbouring states. People visit this fair to buy camels and other livestock. We rode a camel-buggy (cart) for the first time. We also saw horses dancing in the fair. Villagers were staying this this large space in pitched tents.

This photograph brought back a beautiful memory  in my mind.