A Portal to the Subcontinent

I am satisfied by my public school education. I feel that you get back what you put into learning and I’ll be honest, from junior high through high school and into my twenties I had other things on my mind. I didn’t care. In other words, I didn’t put much into it. I was like Jennifer Aniston in “Office Space,” just doing the bare minimum to get by.

That’s changed. I care now. Hell, I’m a teacher! (A form of instant Karma?) Anyway, I’m also a writer of sorts, so I have, over the last decades, endeavored to read up on many of those, so-called, classics that I managed to avoid as I slipped the bonds of high school and community college. Again, this is my notion of putting in the work to get something out. I read. I learn how to craft a great story. At least theoretically, anyway.

For the most part I have been rewarded for my efforts. I have suffered raised eyebrows and clucking tongues as I delved into some old, dusty tome that has been relegated to the Pantheon of “Classic Literature.” Most people seem to jeer, “Why would you want to read that?” I usually respond that I never did. That typically causes confusion, like the other person is thinking, “Why start now?” Well, it’s my time and eyeballs, so if I want to read about the Hunchback or Sherlock or Uncle Tom or Long John Silver, why shouldn’t I?

I will admit, though, that there are times as I am travelling pages of yore when I even ask myself, “Why are you reading this?”

This just happened to me. About a month ago I decided on “one of the finest novels of the 20th Century.” (That’s what the back cover said!) I am usually quite a speedy reader, but this dense, awkward, English book about Colonial India was a slog. The characters were so remote and the innuendos and inferences were related to notions that petered out sometime before WW II. I mean, the dialogue, man! The dialogue often times was like reading a transcript of your parents’ breakfast conversation.

DULL.

I was bummed. I have romantic images of India in my head. I dig Buddha and temples and jungles and exotic locales, but this novel left me stranded in pages and pages of simpering twits who can’t just come out and say what’s on their minds! (By the way, I know India has more to offer than the previously mentioned things, but whatever!)

Now, I will say that when the author, who I respect, got into the heart of the matter, I finally found a groove, but the pages and pages of detail, (exquisite detail, mind you), made me feel like screaming, “Will you please get to the point, sir!” In the end, the core of the story was very touching. It was about cultures colliding, much as the subcontinent collided with Asia to form the Himalayas. It was about understanding and love and friendship. I get that. I just wanted to get there faster, which is a problem not with the book, I guess, but rather with me and the modern world.

Books are different now. We tell stories differently. Today we don’t necessarily want a five-page description of the bazaar in Chandrapore. We don’t need an entire chapter on the skyline of Paris in the 1400’s, like in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Maybe it is because of film and TV and the Internet. We’ve seen these places even if we have never been. We have experience with museums that let us see what we’re missing so when we read we can picture it in our head, even if the description is only a paragraph or less. This may be sad to some, but I think it’s just the way it is. People lament the loss of “the good old days.” I’m guilty! But, you know storytellers were bent out of shape when books took off, but it worked out, right? Just my opinion.

Anyway, as I read that plodding and tedious novel I couldn’t help remembering what a colleague had said when I mentioned what I was reading early on.

“Oh, I hated that book!” she growled passionately. “I read it in college and loathed it.”

So, it’s not just me then?

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