Being a bibliophile does not merely make one a well-read person. It is like carrying all the people, all these characters in one’s heart as if they were people in real life.
It was a bright beautiful day. The sun was high up in the sky, burning up intensely. The light was blindingly bright due to all the snow around. It was just yesterday that they had experienced heavy snowfall, enough to limit them to their houses for the whole day. This day though, it was welcomingly warm.
She left home thinking of merging the joy of snow and sun together. A walk in chilly wind and warm sun. Of blue skies and all-white landscape. There are just a few times when trees can look brown and white together especially if they do not bloom into white flowers. Her manner spoke of expectational glee.
Despite the cold, there was a lot of hustle-bustle around, especially around the Dal Lake. Photo-shoots. Food and company. Kids having a snow fight. Tourists trying to, unsuccessfully, break the frozen layer of the lake by throwing a stone. Knowing the lazy nature of Kashmiris, it was quite a pleasant surprise to see so many people out there just to enjoy the snow, the landscape and have fun.
The landscape sure was alluring. The nearby mountains were clad with freshly fallen snow. The evergreens splashed with snow as if someone painstakingly spray-painted them with a fine tin of white paint. A layer of black clouds concealed the top of all these mountains and brought a chill to the environment. As if it could start snowing again any minute.
She was meeting a friend to take a driving test. After that they would decide how much time she would need per week to learn driving a four-wheeler in a month. Given that she loved to wander around, knowing how to drive would certainly give her wings. It was quite a desired trait for her. Who knew where the road would take her once she knew how to fly it down.
The one thing that she really wanted to do was press down on the accelerator. After a few rounds of here and there, of basics and starting, what is where and all of that, she found herself on a straight patch of road. The car at her behest. Luckily there were not a lot of people driving down that road and it was pretty much just her out there. As soon as she pressed down on the accelerator, just slightly to move at a better speed and to reach at least somewhere, she found herself somewhere else.
It was still early morning. She was in a car besides Kemal Bey driving on the highway which led out of Fatih and into Europe. She was drunk and dizzy from all the wine and sleeplessness of the last night. And the fact that she had a lot of resentment and grudges against a lot of people in her life. The fact that she could not fulfil her dreams or amount to anything due to a lot of people in her life. Because of betrayal. And she rams the car into the huge tree right in front. At top speed.
She had to jerk herself out of the scene back into reality. She could not afford to do such a thing. There had to be a line between fiction and reality, the question of which is which could be discussed later. She slowly pulled the car aside and breathed. Several deep breaths later she could gather again where she was. Who she was. She told her instructor that she wasn’t doing well and would continue the session some day later that week and left.
Once she was all alone, she wondered whether she would actually do something like that. Like get into a character and re-enact what it had done. Did these characters have souls which could possess you? Take hold of your brain and make you do what they want you to. Was this reality or was she living in someone’s dream?
Sitting behind the wheel, she could not differentiate between herself and Fusun. It frightened her. More than that, she was perplexed by the knowledge that she still remembered their names. Fusun and Kemal Bey.
She had been a bookworm all her life. Before she was allowed to take books home, she used to spend her recess time at school sitting in the library. Somehow she would come back the next day, find the book she was reading and continue. The day her librarian told her that she was eligible to take books home, her joy knew no bounds.
Many times a newly recruited librarian would wonder at the number of books she took home and would ask her questions to check how much she retained of these books or what she understood. She could never answer all of their questions. More so, even she felt she did not really remember much of these books and it all was just a leisure activity.
Even when her father asked her not to read novels because they are not good, she always felt like, what harm can they do?
It was in this moment that she knew she had ignored an important warning. A consequential warning.
She thought she would calm down once she took a walk when it started to snow. Slightly.
She felt she was K and was walking down the streets of Kars, looking for the love of his life.
Perturbed, she decided to sit beside the lake and rest her imagination. Yet again, she became Ella. She was the tranquil lake which ran deep and did not show any signs of agony on its surface. A tiny event sending ripples across. Changing everything.
Was she going insane at that moment? Was she losing it? Losing the sense of who she was and what reality looked like?
She had seen her friends praying for a companion as good as Salaar Sikandar and some other times found herself wishing for a rabbit hole or a magic mirror from where to reach Wonderland. She had wondered whether Peter Pan will ever come and take her to Neverland. Other times she wondered whether she would find her Santiago and she get to be his Fatima.
She had looked at the society around her many times. At the plight of women. The way honor was to be upheld and taken care of by a female and she knew how Anna Karenina must have felt when she was married to a man she didn’t love. How much strength it must have taken her to divorce her husband and live with her lover. To roam around without having a name for their relationship.
With the constant lockdown from past 1.5 years, she knew what Anne must have felt like, holed up in an attic not knowing what was happening out there on the streets and what was to happen to her. Or whether they would find food for another meal.
It was like entering a party or a group of people where you feel you are being insulted. Like Miss Havisham insulted Pip and made him feel inferior.
It makes life a little bit bearable thinking one could find a mentor like Mitch found Morrie or like Rumi found Shams. The strings of fate that pulled them together despite the distance. The unconditional understanding and love that these characters showed each other and made flowers bloom in each other’s parched life.
Even though fiction, it all spells hope.
Being a bibliophile does not merely make one a well-read person. It is not like one forgets anything once the cover is closed and the story is finished. The pleasure of smelling a book is not all there is to reading. It is like carrying all the people, all these characters in one’s heart as if they were people in real life. One’s kin and kith. Carrying their resentments and grudges, their thoughts and prejudices and living through all of these.
She grabbed a coffee and decided to walk back home. Thinking that probably all the multiverses were converging and giving her the unique feeling of being anyone and everyone all at the same time.
To help us strengthen the tradition of quality reading and writing, we need allies like YOU. Subscribe to us.
Hirra Sultan is a Srinagar-based writer. Her works have appeared in many regional publications including The Indus Post, The Counsellor Magazine, Kashmir Observer, among others.