Long long time ago, when my world was all about medicine and motherhood and madness, books kept me sane and steady. An hour or two of ferocious reading would soothe the demons of my mind and allow gratitude and optimism to seep into every nook and cranny of that labyrinthine maze in my head. At that time, fiction had been dumped on the wayside….the turns and twists of my own life surpassed anything which authors could pull out of their mind. I needed answers more than adventures, and that is when the Mystical Force of Relevant Reading entered my life. The Force emerged through my daughter. The little one would read every paper in sight…roadside signs, story books, register entries in the clinic, jar labels and the open page of my current book. When I realized that she would be assimilating all my reading, I began reading books which would open up the treasure cave of words and thoughts for both of us. Those were interesting times. Any afternoon at the amazing book shops in Muscat would yield a prized addition to our library..Roald Dahl, Gerald Durrell, TinTin and Asterix ,quirky fairies and elves, help for tough families and tougher manners, ideas of zen and genetics—they all charmed us and jostled for space in the shelves. My personal journey has been guided and channeled by this Mystical Force. Whenever I have needed direction, inspiration and some plain talking, the appropriate book has been gifted to me/fallen out of a library bookshelf/ forgotten by a visiting friend/found in the discount pile, or mentioned in a passing email. A crumbling marriage, two little confused daughters, six-and-a-half- day-practice-week, twenty respectful Arabic-speaking- household-village, few friends in the distant city, 100 km daily commute for school…could life be more challenging? Early thirties Mala had no idea about the what, where, how of her life. It was all about surviving every day and waking up for another survival test. Oman was changing with the advent of money, foreign trips and stuff, television and information…challenging times for the government. Drug addiction was rearing its ugly head and we private practitioners had to handle threats from angry addicts desperate for their fix. The Oman Police organized a seminar for us expat doctors. A surprisingly smart and sharp Omani officer stood out with his sensible and practical session. No hmms, no hesitation, no fumbling—he was crisp, courteous and clear headed. Tea-time found me elbowing my way to talk to him… I wanted to know more. My direct question got me a direct answer… The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey—that was his muse, his guide. I bought the book on my way home. It became my lighthouse, my inspiration and my companion. I read and digested every book written by him, I spouted “mission statement” and “choice” to anyone who listened to me, I made my daughters cringe with my constant referrals to this book, and I found myself!
“A Town Like Alice” by Nevil Shute was left by a visitor and the book gets perused regularly even now. The story of a young woman who sets out to follow her unfinished story and in that process, changes a town continues to enthrall me.
14 years ago, while browsing aimlessly through the quiet shelves of a new South Delhi bookshop, a brightly colored book fell down from the top shelf and landed on my head.“ One Day My Soul Just Opened Up”by Iyanla Vanzant opened my mind to the amazing books of Maya Angelou and other inspiring women in different countries. These books supported and celebrated the individual in each of us, and gave me the courage and strength to just be Me.
While recovering from injuries , a fat collection of hilarious extracts from the books of PG Wodehouse was sent by my cousin. That book got me back on my feet and yes, the first thing after recovery was to add all his books to my bookshelf. Humor heals, handles dark moods and makes the world go round….this meant that Gerald Durrell had to come home too!!
My Delhi office was close enough to the British Council Library for me to drop in at lunch hour, get a subscription and move through the shelves. With tuberculosis and health systems extruding out of every sweat gland, I needed something different and distracting to detox my mind. A casual stroll through the craft aisle and there was this book,” Stitch and Bitch”, leaning insolently among the usual picture- dense craft volumes. I remember picking up this book, and I don’t remember putting it down. Debbie Stoller introduced me to the intricacies of simple knitting, the spectrum of online resources for knitting and the joy of finding like-minded knitters blogging about their journey. I now have the entire set of the Stitch and Bitch books at home…. Extricated from the US through disbelieving cousins and friends “ Stitch and Bitch?!! Are you sure about the name? do I actually go and ask for this book?!!”. My daughter taught herself crochet from “The Happy Hooker” and I am sure the knitting books will be perused by her , in some distant future.. My knitting adventures continue happily till date.
And so, what am I reading these days? Has the Mystical Force of Relevant Reading left me to assist other seekers and book readers? Are there any more books which I should be reading? The girls come holidaying with books which have been picked by The Force. I read recent authors and savor their edgy and unusual take on life. John Green, Eve Ensler and Margaret Atwood are names which come to my mind first, but, the feeling that life is stranger than fiction persists. I end up reading brainpickings.org and zenhabits.net instead of actual books.
And then, a dear friend mentions a book in her meandering email…Women who Run with the Wolves…Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I am reading this magnum opus these days…on the balcony swing with grey clouds in the sky, at the slopes of the golf course when the sun is setting, in bed with the snoring dogs beside me. One chapter per day, with hours of musings and rumination in between, and I can feel something vital changing within me. Once again, the Mystical Force of Relevant Reading is working its magic into my life!!