26 March, 2016.
One of my favourite photographs from my childhood is of me lounging in a chair and reading a book with a furrowed brow. Upon closer inspection, that ‘book’ is actually a phone diary…but my intent look shows a thirst for reading. I must have been about 3 years old then. That was the beginning….of me lounging about, reading a book and being lost to the world.
Growing up, my snack times were focused more on the book I was reading than the food I was gulping down. A good habit or a bad one…it was always a matter of debate in my household. But the ‘madness’ that ensnared me then, never really let go. English became an obsession; calling it a passion would be modesty. Through school and college, I found many people who encouraged this madness of mine and added fuel to the fire by introducing me to new worlds.
The land of stories is a fascinating one. You can switch destinations and loyalties with the flip of a page. You can develop friendships with characters and feel bereaved when the storyline demands their death. You can sit in a corner of your house and yet live many lives, fictional and heroic. It fascinates me; this language, those words. And especially the travels…
Today, I attended a session where a lady narrated her experience of solo backpacking through Italy. Her presentation started off with a very interesting quote : “Mixing business with pleasure is not a sin…” It made me smile and it made me think. About the time when I mixed studies with pleasure. A pleasure beyond words. A feeling so pure. It made me reminisce of the time when my backpack and I went for a hike through the land of stories…
It had always been my dream to study English in England. As a child, the dream made perfect sense. As a teenager, the dream seemed impossible. But as someone with a family who nurtured her love for the language, the dream was within reach. All set to study M.A in Linguistics in England, I set off…far more excited about exploring my storyland than about the course!
Solo backpacking by a woman has its safety issues. You are scared, apprehensive about the treatment you would get and the looks you would have to deal with. But as I set out to explore the settings of my favourite books and the birthplaces of my favourite authors, I realised they were all women too. And woman to woman, this travel was going to be safe. Because in the land of stories, the good always defeats the evil…
I walked through the streets in Bath that Jane Austen once walked on. I looked yonder at the moors that the Brönte sisters once wrote about. I shed tears of joy in Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. I shed tears of grief at Sylvia Plath’s tombstone. I paid my respects at Ted Hughes’ house and I tipped my hat at 221B Baker’s Street. I gushed upon the birthplace of the Canterbury Tales. I relived my childhood at the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition. But what thrilled me most, is that I lived the Enid Blyton experience!
The creaking stair in the house and the whispering trees of the Enchanted Forest. Scones, mince pies and Yolkshire puddings. The laughing brooks and the thrill of Guy Fawkes’ night.
It was all straight out from my stories. They say, a piece of fiction hardly ever matches reality. But standing there in England, as I absorbed all these parallel realities, I acknowledged what a fantastic job these authors have done, absolute years ago. They created words so strong that imagination would never be far away from reality, and yet the magic in it remained intact. And the little me who spent hours in the fictional world, opened her grown -up eyes to a world just as perfect.