LOOKING AHEAD…

The last day of the year. The last day of a decade. A day that calls for stock-taking of the months and days gone by. And often, a day for feeling short-changed by life; the self-doubts of what did one achieve? Regrets for unscaled heights and unfulfilled aspirations. Guilt at the unfulfilled resolutions (oops! now where did I safely put that list?!)

In today’s existence which is defined by the measure of busyness and “achievements”; a life of what Hermann Hesse described as one of “aggressive haste”, we seem to be unable to get off the hamster-wheel—running faster while not getting anywhere. The fallout of this is reflected in the daily news of burn outs and breakdowns,or drowning further in hedonistic pleasures.

The dilemma is not peculiar to our times. More than a hundred years ago, Hermann Hesse lamented on the pursuit of as much as possible, as fast as possible: The high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.

What really matters? What really counts? As Time, that wily old gypsy man, trundles through the minutes and hours that add up to one year, and then ten, does it really mean so much to try to catch Time, or run alongside the caravan, breathless and trailing behind? Something to think about!

As a new year dawns it will be the time for yet another list of resolutions. Before we reach midnight, here is a simple mantra to make our ride a little less bumpy, and the journey little more meaningful—Make some time to stop and stare!

Hermann Hesse’s 1905 essay titled ‘On Little Joys’ gently reminds of how the ability to cherish small everyday moments can open our hearts and lift our spirits. ”My advice to the person suffering from lack of time and from apathy is this: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys, and thriftily save up the larger, more demanding pleasures for holidays and appropriate hours. It is the small joys first of all that are granted us for recreation, for daily relief and disburdenment, not the great ones.These little joys are so inconspicuous and scattered so liberally throughout our daily lives that the dull minds of countless workers hardly notice them. They are not outstanding, they are not advertised, they cost no money”!

The play of light and shadow; the quite enjoyment of a favourite author with a cup of tea; the scent of wet earth after the first shower; the delight of meeting a friend; sharing a happy meal with loved ones…all it takes is to linger awhile with all senses newly tuned, and the switching off of the numerous demands and distractions of our daily grind.

While we can’t change all the big things, we can make the small ones matter. Looking ahead, what can be a better resolution than to make time for the little pleasures?

Here is to a year of savouring the simple joys!

–Mamata

Navigating a Book

It has probably happened to all of us at some time. We read a book, and we love it. We urge our friends to read it, but when they do, they react to it in a very different way—find it unreadable even. I had always attributed this to different tastes. And then, sometimes a book by an author that I know and like just does not hold my attention, and I don’t quite ‘get into it’ as it were. I attribute this to my ‘mood’ or state of mind.

Interestingly, I recently came across a piece by the famous German author Herman Hesse that helps to explain why this happens. In an essay titled On Reading Books written in 1920, Hesse describes what could be called the ‘taxonomy’ of readers. He argues that just as people have different temperaments and attitudes towards anything in the world, these also affect our personality as readers. He outlines three key types of reader personalities, which can coexist within a single reader over the course of a lifetime.

The first type he calls the naive reader—“one who assumes that a book is there simply and solely to be read faithfully and attentively and who experiences a book merely as content.” Such a reader consumes a book as he consumes a loaf of bread, or sleeps because there is a bed.

The second type of reader is one “who is endowed with childlike wonderment, who sees past the superficialities of content to plumb the depths of the writer’s creative impulse. This reader treasures neither the substance nor the form of a book as its single most important value. He knows, in the way children know, that every object can have ten or a hundred meanings for the mind. For such a mind the bread becomes a mountain to bore tunnels into, and the bed a cave, a garden, a snow field.” This kind of reader may be described as an imaginative investigator.

Next comes the final type of reader, who is really a non-reader but rather a dreamer and interpreter: “He is so completely an individual, so very much himself, that he confronts his reading matter with complete freedom. He wishes neither to educate nor to entertain himself, he uses a book exactly like any other object in the world, for him it is simply a point of departure and a stimulus. Essentially it makes no difference to him what he reads. He does not need a philosopher in order to learn from him, to adopt his teaching, or to attack or criticize him. He does not read a poet to accept his interpretation of the world; he interprets it for himself. He is, if you like, completely a child. He plays with everything — and from one point of view there is nothing more fruitful and rewarding than to play with everything. If this reader finds a beautiful sentence in a book, a truth, a word of wisdom, he begins by experimentally turning it upside down.”

“This reader is able, or rather each one of us is able, at the hour in which he is at this stage, to read whatever he likes, a novel or grammar, a railroad timetable, a galley proof from the printer. At the hour when our imagination and our ability to associate are at their height, we really no longer read what is printed on the paper but swim in a stream of impulses and inspirations that reach us from what we are reading. They may come out of the text, they may simply emerge from the type face. An advertisement in a newspaper can become a revelation; the most exhilarating, the most affirmative thoughts can spring from a completely irrelevant word if one turns it about, playing with its letters as with a jigsaw puzzle. In this stage one can …play with the words, letters, and sounds, and thereby take a tour through the hundred kingdoms of knowledge, memory, and thought”.

Before we begin to analyse where we fit into this taxonomy, Hesse reminds us that “no one of us need belong permanently to any one of these types. Each mode of reading is necessary for a full life, but it is insufficient in and of itself.”

He goes on to urge “For just once in your life remain for an hour, a day at the third stage, the stage of not-reading-any-more. You will thereafter (it’s so easy to slip back) be that much better a reader, that much better a listener and interpreter of everything written.”

–Mamata