Reading during the Times of Covid-19: Essay by Fiza Pathan
I knew it would take longer than expected, that is why I paid my library’s annual fee but did not promise to come back.
Sometimes at the rate, the cases of Covid-19 are multiplying in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, I wonder whether I will ever see my local libraries again. Or for that matter, will I ever live to see another year?
I am grateful that I work from home and have got enough books to last me for the next 27 years at least. I went into a sort of ‘lockdown’ much before anyone in Mumbai did. I finished writing a novel in March 2020 before the lockdown started. I was already in seclusion. I thought it would end quickly and that we would have a vaccine or antidote for Covid-19 by May.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, the cases started increasing in India and the USA at alarming proportions. It was then that I felt that I must read a book which I have wanted to read since the time I was a little girl at school, but never got the time to read it completely from start to finish. So, in March 2020, I picked up the Holy Bible to read. I picked it up thinking that maybe it would be the last book I would ever read. It’s true; I had those thoughts going on in my head.
I read the Holy Bible and other books during this time. The Bible was heavy-duty reading and whenever I took a break from it, I used to pick up another book to read. The books that I read during the lockdown were:
- Thrillers like James Patterson, Tess Gerritsen, and Robin Cook. They somehow all seemed similar to one another. But I loved the thrillers all the same and enjoyed the thrill along with the action. I especially liked Patterson’s Woman of God not because it was related to the Roman Catholic faith, but it had also to do with doctors working on the frontlines of civil war. I thought of our doctors and nurses working for our safety trying to contain the coronavirus. It also reminded me of a lot of other doctors who were not practicing in their clinics anymore because they didn’t want to get the virus from their patients.
- Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke which was my first Rilke book and it fed me with the determination to stick to my writing vocation even during these troubled times. It has not been a very productive writing period for me during the lockdown, but I have been blogging regularly. The thing is, I was too drowned in reading. I was tired after I finished penning the novel in March 2020. I wanted to write my next nonfiction memoir but for that I had to go to my office-cum-writing-hut and the problem was that our government rules stated that I couldn’t go there because of the lockdown. All my material, resources, and of course, my books are all there. Luckily, now that the restrictions are lifted I will be going back this coming week. My office-cum-writing-hut is only a few steps away from my house. I spent four months away from it.
- The Secret History of the Gnostics by Andrew Phillip Smith, Seven Types of Atheism by John N. Gray, and the Last Testament: In His Own Words by Benedict XVI with Peter Seewald are the ‘religion’ and ‘philosophy’ related books that I read one after another in succession. All these wonderful books were enlightening and spiritually uplifting. Some of these books were bought from bookstores catering to rare books. I have been trying to send messages to these bookstores on Facebook to ask whether they have opened their shop or not. I’m worried about them. I am afraid that because of the lockdown, the bookstore trade will suffer as well as the general book trade. These stores have served me for the longest time ever, and I hope the best for them. I’m still waiting for a reply. Maybe tomorrow I’ll call them up personally.
- The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Disciples by Austin Wright are the only two fiction books I read during the lockdown. I loved Zafón to bits but Wright is good too. Both these amazing books were bought by me at one of the bookshops I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post. Both were literary fiction picks which were wonderful to escape into, from this terrible reality of a Covid-19 world.
- Open Confession to a Man from a Woman by Marie Corelli was epic; it made me laugh so much and now I am a diehard fan of Corelli. She looks at life from a different perspective in her books and so this book was a joy to read. I bought this one a long time ago when I was a teenager, from a book fair. I wonder whether there will be book fairs in the future. I wonder sometimes whether the year 2019 was the last time I would spend fun time browsing through books at a book fair?
- Lastly, the two R.K. brothers. I read Laxman’s, as well as Narayan’s autobiographies and it, made good weekend reading material. Both of these books I bought when I was in my early twenties. Narayan’s I’ve read maybe five times but this was the first time I was picking up Laxman’s autobiography and I’m glad I did. When I think of these two brothers who are now dead, I feel jealous. They lived in difficult times, but not as bad as the situation is in the world today. They were very witty and humorous. Would their humor hold out if they were still alive right now, in a Covid-19 world?
These were the books that I read during the lockdown. The Bible took most of my time; after all, it was 2,265 pages. I’m content to live in the four walls of my existence. I have got classes to teach online to pay my bills and I’ve got a lot of writing and reading to keep me going.
Reading has never served me as a stressbuster as well as during this long four-month lockdown period. I have found succor in my books and look forward to getting back to writing. I’ll be working on a memoir of sorts that will read like a novella. I would have been there this week, but something terrible happened.
A young boy from the wadi near my house passed away. We are not sure whether he died due to Covid-19 or dengue. But he is no more and his parents are distraught while the rest of the area where I stay is in mourning.
As per the Hindu custom for funerals, they have placed a pot of water outside the entrance of the wadi as well as a tray of food for the dead. This is a custom, so that the dead may be satisfied and not haunt the living. This is also done so that the dead may return to his maker. These things are placed right near my office-cum-writing-hut. I don’t want to disturb them, so I’m waiting till the period of mourning is over and then I’m getting back to work.
Yesterday my younger aunt Rita because of excessive reading (I got her hooked onto books, I am a very convincing person) got a severe bout of vertigo and was vomiting her innards out. I was reading The Novelist by Angela Hunt when this happened. We were afraid because no hospitals are looking after regular patients with regular issues anymore.
We don’t have conveyance. My Man Friday driver has flown the coup to Telangana. The nearest hospital is one kilometer away. It was nighttime and, on whose door, could we knock to beg them to take us to the hospital?
Somehow, most of us stayed up the night and got her to sleep. I went to bed to read at 1:00 a.m., but I couldn’t read much. My mind kept drifting back to the little boy who died as well as the incessant moaning of Rita.
We keep on ‘clapping hands and utensils’ for the doctors and nurses as well as other health professionals who have helped us during this Covid-19 pandemic, and rightly so. But I would rather bang the Bible on my head to commemorate all those other wonderful doctors who for fear of the coronavirus have stopped their practice and have abandoned their duty toward their patients. Hallelujah to you dear faint-hearted doctors! Hallelujah to us who have become so dependent on you that we are dying of other diseases apart from the coronavirus.
This is not your fault; it is our fault. For trusting you like we implicitly trust our soldiers.
Hallelujah to me, while I pick another book to read in the times of corona and wonder, whether I’ll be next!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan