Last month a lot of people on Facebook shared their favourite books. As per the rule, one was supposed to share the names of only 10 books, but you know how it can be with books. Narrowing down the number of just 10 can be really really tricky. So, when I was tagged by a friend to share my list, the torture of choosing just 10 got the better of me and I did the next best thing. I didn’t participate in this tag game. Like always there was a bunch of sourpusses who dissed the whole thing, saying that people Googled the best book and listed them out. Whatever the case was, it was good to see people talking about books for once instead of some other random event or human being who don’t affect our lives even minutely.
Anyway, I started making a list before I gave up. The whole exercise was excruciating in a way as I was juggling the list of favourite books in my mind. Some names got replaced every time I made a list but one book retained its place each and every single time, remaining the first name on the list. And it was the very first novel I had read. "Dr Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". I still remember the day when it came into my life. 21st April. It was my birthday. I lived in a small town, in a close-knit community. Before going to a birthday party, everybody discussed which presents to take for the birthday girl/boy so that there were no repeated gifts. How thoughtful right! Even the store owner knew which gift was taken by whom. I guess it was my 9th birthday. Like any other 9 year old girl I was expecting some exciting gifts. Something no one ever gave me before. And that wish came true when this one guy gave decided to give me a novel because ‘all other gifts were taken’. I remember being extremely disappointed and angry at him. I mean how could he give me something that kept me confined to one spot and I actually had to make an effort to read! I did that in school..why would I want to do at home. Don’t get me wrong, I liked reading but I was more into comics and short stories rather than a full fledged novel. Nevertheless, I was angry and I shoved the book into some corner of my bookshelf. It saw the day of light when one unforgiving summer afternoon forced all us to stay indoors. After all, it was the only way you could survive. (Seriously, the heat could have easily melt or evaporate anyone. Well at least the 9 year old me thought so). I decided to look for a comic to re-read when I saw this novel. I saw it a lot of times whenever I spent some time with my bookshelf and I never paid attention to it. But this time, it almost seemed like it was screaming at me to pick it up. I was sceptical but I did pick it up. I thought, if I had to be confined to one place and read, I might as well read something new. What’s the worst that could happen? I would lose a few hours of my life. Not that I was bothered about this issue back then. I turned the first page. Then the next one. And another. Another. And I got up after the last page was turned. Between a few hundred pages that lay between the first and last one, I found a new world. A world which I refused to leave since.
That birthday I was given the greatest gift. It gave me the ability to step into different worlds that were fantastical, scary, happy and sad, all at once. I could step into different dimensions, slip into the shoes of a million characters and feel a multitude of emotions. All sitting in the same place! And I thought books confined you to just one place! Heights of naivety I’d say. I guess that moment when I felt this power of transporting to new, imaginary yet such believable worlds was the most exciting moment in the 9 years of my life. It was almost surreal. I remember that story so well, even after 17 years of reading it. I was just blown away by how story-telling can be so damn absorbing. I was in awe. I fell in love that day. I fell in love with a book. I fell in love with reading. I fell in love with the art of story-telling. Today, it is such a big part of my life. Rather, it found a way to weave my life around it.
They say that the first of anything is special and this was my first novel ever. No book can ever take away its importance and its significance. Since that day, I believed that every book enters your life when it is supposed to. So, the next time people judge you if you haven't read some particular classic or if you cannot pick up a book that’s being lying around your home around since ages, it’s OK. The time is not right. Maybe you won’t get the story or relate to it or find it unexciting. Wait for the right and the book will become a big part of your life. Permanently. You will know when to start reading it. If you love books the way I do, they communicate with you in their own way and you will understand them. You will know when to pick up a certain book. Maybe if I read the novel as soon as I got, I wouldn't it have enjoyed. Maybe it wouldn't have changed my life. Or maybe it would have. But I know one thing for sure. I picked it up when it wanted me to and it showed me a way. Even though it came in my life in April, it wasn’t until June that I started reading. And till this day, that June has been a life-changing month for me. Is this my favourite novel of all times? Probably not. Is this the one that changed my life? Hell yes.
So, thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson for writing it. Thank you A, Mr. and Mrs T. for picking it up and thank god for finishing off all the ‘good gifts’. Otherwise they couldn't have gifted me the novel. A, I’m sure you don’t remember this birthday because it was eons ago and I'm pretty sure you don't even remember me. But wherever you are, know that you gifted me a lifetime of joy that accompanies reading. If someone ever asks me again, which was the one book that changed my life, I know my answer. It was the very first novel I read, the one that started it all.