Of Anna Karenina and Soft Readers


Reading a book for the first time is a lot like getting to know someone new in a crash-course kind of a way. That’s mostly because without even turning the first page or saying a word, you almost always have a few judgements going through your head over and over again. You rarely doubt it for a second for you have been doing this for so many years. Why would it fail you this time?

The first time I picked Harry Potter, I still remember the thrill that kept me up many nights until I was fully in possession of the entire plot. Before I even picked up Fifty Shades of Grey (God knows why, actually He does), I already had a feeling it would make me cringe more than once and not in a good way. After a few excruciating “Holy shit!” and “Christian!” later, that’s exactly what had happened.

And then, there are books that when you first behold them, it’s like looking at a friend who would like nothing more than to confide in you their most adventurous of tales, sometimes even their deepest of confessions. You read greedily, even hungrily (Sometimes with a bag of chips and a glass of coke) but you read for the plot. In your attempt to advise, you want to know everything, all at once. Sometimes, it’s something you have never heard before and a few times, it’s one of the oft-repeated tales that even though are repetitive are related with such enthusiasm and earnestness that you are forced to lend an ear.

The first time I read Anna Karenina, all I wanted to know was how it was going to end. Impulsive and animated, one could find a lot in common with how Anna dealt with most situations in the book and yet her animateness was so unlike the “bubbly” heroines the Bollywood films are trying so hard to portray as adorable that there’s a very real connection that the reader forms with the character.

You certainly have the liberty to form your opinion, scorn it, dislike it or set aside as something you were better off not knowing but in no way, it’s something that you consider forced or of a crass quality that only an ill-researched piece of literature would have relied upon. Like I said, you want to know how things end because somehow or the other you end up finding similarities with the central characters.

It ends tragically. You let out a few sighs, the loyal reader as you are but eventually move on.

However, it’s not one of those books that let you move on easily. Perched on your bookshelf with wrinkled pages crumpled together depicting signs of heavy use, call on you until your dubious self gives in.

The second time I picked up Anna Karenina, it was like Po applying for apprenticeship at Master Shifu’s. The narrative known but the secrets and nuances, not quite I picked up the book on a never-ending holiday with no signs of civilization around (Karachi going through a cell-phone ban and what not) and it was like somebody had gone through the world and left around clues and bits and pieces of interesting experiences had, explaining things from difficult relatives to domestic fights and from self-absorbed yet well meaning behaviours to good natured yet self-destructive tendencies.

All of a sudden, as if by magic the end is no longer of significance. What you decide, what they decide, what the author decide is of no consequence. The tale, the all-encompassing nature of the narrative lies in how the plot unfolds and slowly and yet surely, takes you on a journey so far unvisited and transforms you into someone wiser (or not) but surely different (may be more thoughtful) without having to spend a dime on renewed passports and ill-timely bought luggage.

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