The magic books can do

When its late in the night to call up a friend to rant about a cussed, difficult day, and equally late to wake up those at home who would have a sympathetic ear to lend, I have found unexpected comfort in reading. Not anything that professes to help, but any thoughtful, sincere piece of fiction or non-fiction, by nearly anyone, on nearly anything!

The other night I went through three pieces by three different authors on three quite unrelated things. One by Amitav Ghosh ( on the deep influence of his stay in Egypt in his 20s on all his subsequent writing; another an excerpt of a new book about Gandhi’s last day and a third a short piece by a widely regarded spiritual leader whom I’ve usually felt no affinity with.

By the time I was halfway through the first piece, I was already feeling better, less bogged down by the various complaints I had had about the day and the part I had played in making it insufferable. And it wasn’t only a sense of distancing from the acute unease I was feeling about nearly everything that had transpired but a kind of illumination on the experience itself.

Ghosh’s piece made me marvel at how self-reflective and thoughtful his younger 24 year old self was in having decided to lose himself in a new but culturally familiar country for the reasons he mentions; the book excerpt made me think of how liberating it is to consider death the way Gandhi seemed to have as a final, celebratory release and ‘return’ and the short piece by the guru made me think of how nearly everyone who has committed herself to a life of mindful reflection has something vital to say to those of us toiling away in samsara.

And yet none of this discounts the intense feeling of defeat and loss that can engulf us some days — triggered by in hindsight some of the most banal complaints against the world. But picking up something to read on such days does something special — it pats down big feelings and puts them in place without a trace of condescension and reassures us the way good friends do that this too shall pass.

Getting Away

If you have been struggling with a debilitating condition (“isn’t growing older debilitating enough??!!”), if the best doctors around have attended to you and put you thoughtfully on a course of medicines, diet and exercise to help counter the damage that a set of inter-linked ailments are doing to your body (mind and spirit) then the single most therapeutic thing you can do for yourself is get away.

It takes time, effort, planning, money and some amount of understandable anxiety but if you stick to your guns and follow through, you will find that just the act of getting away for a short period from the tedium of the everyday in all its exhausting minutiae will rejuvenate you like nothing else can.

Being in other spaces, in the company of people – strangers even – one doesn’t get to meet usually, seeing different sights and living in weather other than the one you have come from, all help in ‘unsettling’ you in all the right ways.

And as a bonus, when you return to home ground, you will have new found appreciation for all the little things that make your home, your home — the familiar colors, smells and shapes you navigate around nearly unconsciously everyday, the various nick-knacks you have chosen to adorn your walls with, the steady hum of your refrigerator, the comfort of falling asleep on your bedclothes in your own bed.

Hurrah to rejuvenating breaks!