How Reading Helped My Socially Awkward Self Make Friends
I met V at the front of the café. V is the co-founder of the café and ‘Dialogues with Books’ was his brain-child. V is a dreamer-vagabond with a management degree – a complete oddball. He is a Fernando Pessoa with the stark discipline of Ray Bradbury. Back then, V used to host ‘Dialogues with Books’, while managing his café – an extraordinary feat. That afternoon, V mistook my social awkwardness for the nonchalance of a non-reader, and boy, was I offended! After this exchange, I was determined to explain to V, in as many words as possible, that I was an incessant reader. At the end of the book-club, after spewing the critical theory of several books – mostly Atwood and Orwell– V admitted defeat and we became friends.
Though at the helm of affairs at the café, V is a traveler at heart – for me, he is like From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet by Vikram Seth. I read this book in high school as part of my Literature in English course; in the beginning, I couldn’t wrap my head around the inclusion of a travelogue in the syllabus, but then, I grew to love it – a perfect depiction of V and my friendship. The book is based on Seth’s remarkable and unorthodox journey from western China on to the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and Kathmandu, and ultimately to Delhi. The book surprises its readers as it explores the point of borders and boundaries, and is studded with poetry –
“Here we three, cooped, alone,
Tibetan, Indian, Han,
Against a common dawn
Catch what poor sleep we can
And sleeping drag the same
Sparse air into our lungs,
And dreaming each of home
Sleeptalk in different tongues.”
S, who began attending the book-club meets around the same time as me, and later went on to start his own ‘Dialogues with Movies’, is, in fact, a movie-lover in a bookworm’s clothing, but let’s not begrudge him that. S is the quintessential copywriter – he is crisp with words, is often photographed hiding a sardonic smirk and is very much like his favorite comic character, Wimbledon Green – he collects books and shows them off, but his friends often wonder whether he even reads them. If S were a book, he would be Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel, Moving Pictures, a satire of Hollywood with its fixation for fame and fortune. In many ways, Moving Pictures is about how things are always more than what meets the eye. – “The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.”
Another friend from the book-club, A is a cross between Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and my favourite author, Margaret Atwood’s prescient first novel, The Edible Woman. A is my age but seems like she is as old as the hills – with her long, meandering bookshelves and her ability to remain resilient in the face of all adversity. She is suspended between the realms of fiction and non-fiction; she is both there and not there. She reminds me of Dear Ijeawele simply because I see her following her own feminist manifesto, and encouraging other women to never shy away from being themselves. In her very bizarre way, she is the feminist I’d love to become. But in most ways, A is like Marian, the protagonist of The Edible Woman – an ordinary woman who cannot calm (for good reason) her inner rebellion – “What else can I do? Once you’ve gone this far you aren’t fit for anything else. Something happens to your mind. You’re overqualified, overspecialized, and everybody knows it.”
I read the M Train by Patti Smith around the time I met N at the book club earlier this year – she was late to the event, traversing from another end of the city but she was there: almost content at having made the journey successfully. N is a scientist who is deeply moved by all things poetry – an unlikely, but thrilling combination. In subsequent meetings with N, she was always making the journey- escaping the draconian thrills of social media, reciting poetry, and shaking her fists at patriarchy. N, like Smith’s book, is an elegiac contemplation on the beginnings and endings of journeys; one who is likely to quote from Oscar Wilde, and mourn the demise of Cassini in the same breath – “I believe in movement. I believe in that lighthearted balloon, the world. I believe in midnight and the hour of noon. But what else do I believe in? Sometimes everything. Sometimes nothing. It fluctuates like light flitting over a pond.”
Then there’s P – he’s not about genres at all. You cannot put a person like P in a neatly categorized box. P is everywhere and nowhere, and you must always aspire to have a friend like this. P blends into whatever books he wishes to, whenever he wishes – it’s a neat habit, I think. Also, I have never seen P with a paperback or a hardback. P is the full convert, his uncovered, e-reader fitting snuggly in the front pocket of his breeches. Oftentimes, P will look up from his beverage (mostly a protein shake), or suddenly text on a Saturday morning asking for recommendations on books that will help him escape reality. P reminds me of one of my favourite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer because he is one of two people who I know enjoyed the book as much as I did. Also, because P is like the book – as a friend, he creeps up on you almost suddenly, and then you’re glad that you stayed friends.
There, you seemed to have met all my friends in Bangalore, whom I bonded with because of our love for reading. Clearly, my love for reading trumped my social awkwardness and helped me make friends in a strange city where I knew no one.
Take a peek at some of the books Deya’s read with her book-club.
Photo Credits: Dialogues Cafe, Bangalore