In the weeks that followed my surgery, unable to move around and in pain, time passed for me watching TV or reading. In the first few days, I watched TV more than reading. One could shut down one’s mind and stare at the world rolling out till eyes ached. But, soon I switched over to reading.
There was a time, in my youth when I wouldn’t be seen without a book. But when in mid-40s, I had to wear glasses and the lure of TV and Internet overpowered the love for reading, my reading took a downward turn. Whereas I used to visit bookshops at least once a week, I hardly bought new books. If at all I read, it would be for reference for a project or article or some such purpose.
Well, all that is past! Nothing like reading for soothing nerves and stimulating brain! Now, every evening after limping back home from work, I close the doors of my room, pummel the pillows to a comfortable shape and with a sigh of great satisfaction, open a book.
Couple of weeks ago while on leave, I engaged myself in one of my favourite activities – tidying up books. Shelf by shelf, they were brought out, dusted, thought about, pages flipped through and kept back with affection. Camphor tablets were strewn liberally to ward off insects.
I was aghast to note that there were several books untouched and unread. I wondered how I had missed reading them! But then, there had been too many distractions, I guess. One such book I had hardly read was The Picador Nature Reader. Of course, I had read a few pieces and then had totally forgotten it.
Picador Nature Reader is one of the best anthologies on nature writing. There are works of non-fiction, fiction and poetry, written by naturalists, biologists, and laymen. Writers like Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, Loren Eiseley, Terry Tempest Williams, Richard k Nelson, E O Wilson, Peter Mattheissen, Gary Snyder and a host of others. How observant, how sensitive these writers are! No photographer could match with their skills of creating verbal images! No philosopher could eulogize life and humanity like they did! I am stunned and humbled by their eloquence, their magic with words, the loftiness of their thoughts! Observation, narration and reflection are some of the key skill areas for a writer. And these writers excelled in these skills.
At the end of the book, many of the writers had given lists of books on natural history and nature writing that they admired. Pouring over the lists, I narrowed down a few books (I had some, would have loved to have all) and with all the excitement that I used to have long ago, clicked away at flipkart.com or bookadda.com and bought 4 books. Oh my! The Immense Journey by Loren Eiseley, The Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, The Island Within by Richard K Nelson ( I love this guy!) and The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louve.
About each of them, later. What I wanted to share here is my love for books. One area I am not keen is physical sciences. I am totally out of depth there.
In the bookstalls, in the libraries that I haunt, I sometimes pause and gaze in awe at the rows and rows of books. Just imagine the energy that has gone into the creation of these millions of books! People over centuries, from far and wide across the world, in cities, in villages, in crowded apartments, in lonely hermitages have sat brooding and thinking and writing, pouring their minds onto paper and compute screens. Let whatever be the subject, whatever be the quality of the writing, each is a creative effort. Only when one sits down to write something that he can understand the pain and pleasure of expressing oneself through words.
And what better topic than Nature to write about! It abounds in and around us. We look at it from within and without, as its part, as a detached observer. At home, now as I write, a Shikra perches on a tree limb just outside my window, relishing a rat. He glances at me enquiringly, unafraid. I tell him, don’t, don’t move. I just want to look at you.
******************* Balachandran, Trivandrum 21.07.2010