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Reading in the time of Coronavirus

Posted On : May 19 2020

Writer : Devlina Ganguly

Bookaholicanonymous is delighted to bring you a lovely piece by Devlina Ganguly, a former journalist now looking forward to enter the corporate world. The Coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives upside down. At the beginning of the many lockdowns in India we are sure many thought with time on their hands they will be able to accomplish much like catching up on their reading and writing. But nobody predicted the load of the household work that is taking so much of our time. Most of all to keep a mental balance and delegate time for the things we love is a challenge. Read how Devlina got her reading groove back.  

Reading in the time of Coronavirus

Ever since the last week of March 2020, we in India have been locked down in our homes—missing the world outside, friends, family—basically everything familiar about life and living before COVID-19 struck us like something our generation has never experienced before.

In this world of so many unknowns, so many firsts, we have stumbled in the darkness, unsure of what to do, how to adapt. I for one have struggled and am still struggling to find my footing in this Brave (or not-so-brave) New World.

When the lockdown started, I foolishly thought there would be time to do things which commuting to and from office didn’t allow me to indulge in. One of them would definitely be reading more, much much more. I was struggling to finish Murakami’s 681-pager Killing Commandatore, for days and I was positive I would make good headway, turning the pages of the book at night—when the work of excel sheets, Microsoft Word and PPTs as well as cooking and cleaning would be over. I would read my favourite author and then move on to other books on my to-read list.

Well, man proposes, God disposes. In this case, the one above and COVID-19 had a good laugh while I was busy making such plans. Because for almost two long months, I didn’t read a single page. Yes, not one page— of anything!

I would see people sharing details of what they were reading on social media. My Facebook and Twitter timelines were filled with the generosity of folks who suggested reading lists for the lockdown. The books on my bedside table, the Killing Commandatore lying on my bed (you see, I planned to read it every night), would look at me accusingly, expectantly. Hoping, like I did I guess, that their friend would return to them.

But I couldn’t.

All I did was binge-watch shows I hadn’t watched before. It was easier to watch another world, escape into another reality easily, where I could see banks in Spain being robbed, or the complex web of counter-terrorism involving Palestine-Israel. I was not a participant in that world. I didn’t have to focus, rather I knew I would be unable to do so. On many instances, several minutes of a show would pass before I realised I had let my wander and didn’t follow anything that was happening on-screen.

All I would read was the newspaper, something I would give a cursory glance at best before Corona came to invade our lives, and our minds.

All I could focus on were the COVID-19 related updates on Twitter, religiously following the news portals on the micro-blogging site to know the latest updates of the pandemic.

My mind was such a chaos. I knew I would not be able to read a word, be a part of the written world and find peace in it, as I always had. I was disappointed in myself, but just couldn’t find myself picking up a book—any book – to read.

But love is an undefeatable force, be it for people or for things we love doing. So, last night while I had just finished another popular web series that’s all the rage now for its hard-hitting portrayal of the underbelly of Indian media and politics, I was wondering what I would move on to next; a world of escape, when my old world of books decided to draw me back right into it.

As I walked into the other room to get myself a glass of water, my eyes chanced upon a book I had read last year. A gift from a friend- a book I loved as a woman, a girl and as the ‘other’ --Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other.

Why this? Why again? Well, this book isn’t just a story of others, it’s the story of me, of us. Be it Amma, a lesbian socialist playright, or Shirley—who never belongs to Amma’s community, or Morgan, who uses the Web to navigate her gender identity—this world is my world, our world, the world of thousands of women to whom patriarchy continues to present a thousand challenges till date.

The world of this book is mine, it is my mother’s, her mother’s and would be also be my daughter’s if I were to have one. This would not feel like reading someone else’s story, this is my story, too.

Girl, Woman, Other is not just about a history of struggle, it’s also a story of joy, love, imagination, and friendship. Just as life is—even now, where amid all the doom and gloom are also narratives of hope, humanity and love. And now, this book will be more special than ever to me for it embraced me at a time when I was struggling to get back to what I love so fiercely—the world of reading.

The book culminates with her protagonists – black women of different generations, faiths, classes, politics and heritages, and a few men too – thrown together at a party for a soap opera-style grand finale. Evaristo’s world is not idealised, but there is something uniquely beautiful about it. The core group holding the party together are a non-traditional family – Amma and Roland are queer parents, while Yazz, their formidable, defiant daughter with the unruly afro, bobs about the room. For many readers, it’s not a familiar world – this is a Britain less often depicted in fiction. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not a world that is possible, and worth celebrating.

Thank you Devlina for penning down your thoughts during these difficult times…do keep writing for us!

Devlina about Devlina Ganguly: Essentially, an eater of worlds: comics, books, films and other pop-culture planets. Former journalist, currently taking baby steps into the corporate world. All said and done, words make my world go round. 

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