by Chandra Bahadur Lama
Each of us possesses a distinct flavor of thoughts and interests. What captivates our attention, whether it’s the music we enjoy, the books we read, or the conversations we engage in, is influenced by the preferences that reside within our inner thoughts and emotions. Because our thoughts are constantly evolving, our consciousness is perpetually seeking new avenues for fulfillment. Reading, in its essence, is a splendid means by which we can satiate and nourish the specific cravings of our consciousness.
I have indelible memories of my reading journey during my childhood, which was gracefully nurtured by my teachers. Their guidance kindled my curiosity and impelled me to make journey into the realm of literature, both in the Nepali and English languages. At that time, there were two popular monthly children’s magazines called ‘Muna’ and ‘Sunkehsari’ in Nepali that were readily available in the market. It was through the pages of ‘Muna’ and ‘Sunkeshari’ that the seeds of a fervent passion for reading were sown within me, eventually flourishing into a profound and enduring literary ardor.
In addition to ‘Muna’ and ‘Sunkeshari’, my teachers also urged me to read “Wisdom,” an English publication brimming with profound ideas, enlightening articles, and captivating stories. The pages of “Wisdom” provided me with a gateway to a broader world of knowledge and creativity, helping me expand my horizons beyond the confines of my own experiences. ‘Muna’, ‘Sunkeshari’, and ‘Wisdom’ have been really important in shaping my reading habits.
I’ve always had a strong interest in spirituality since I was young. As I grew older, I naturally found myself drawn to religious texts. Two books that became very important to me on my reading journey were “Nepali Sankshipta Mahabharata” and “Nepali Sankshipta Ramayana” by Chakrapani Chalise. These books have been like close companions in my exploration of literature and spirituality. These were the two thickest books I most likely read during my childhood. They were not just ordinary books; they were like magical doorways that opened up to the epic tales of ancient times. These stories were filled with valor, morality, and profound life lessons that captured my imagination from a young age.
As I plunged into the pages of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, I found myself transported to a world where gods mingled with mortals, heroes clashed with villains, and the eternal battle of good versus evil played out in intricate detail. These narratives were not only a source of entertainment but also served as a guidepost for my own ethical and spiritual journey.
In these pages, I discovered more than just stories; I uncovered timeless wisdom that resonated with my soul. These epic tales became a part of my identity, shaping my understanding of right and wrong, and instilling in me a profound sense of spirituality.
In addition to immersing myself in epic sagas, I also had the privilege of delving into the existence and wisdom of Gautam Buddha through a dedicated biography. This profound encounter imparted to me the profound lesson of non-violence and the pursuit of inner peace. It was then that my yearning for knowledge and quest to learn Vipassana meditation were kindled in me. However, it took a considerable span of time for this longing to finally materialize.
These early encounters with religious and spiritual literature laid a strong foundation for my intellectual and spiritual growth. They not only taught me valuable life lessons and nurtured my curiosity about the enigmas of existence but also, through their enthralling contents, continued to shape my reading habits.
When I was in the 9th grade, I came to know about a peaceful library tucked away in the alley leading to Machchindra Park in Jawalakhel, where the building of Good Governance Center, Bagmati Province stands today. It quickly became my favorite place during holidays, especially in the summer and winter breaks. Back then, there wasn’t a library card system, and we couldn’t take books home. We had to stay in the library and read there.
Those days I spent there hold a special place in my heart as they were truly the golden moments of my life. It was in that quiet library that I was introduced to literary giants like Charles Dickens, Anton Chekhov, Rabindranath Tagore, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Jules Verne, and many more. It was a place where I got lost in the captivating worlds they created through their books, and those memories remain cherished to this day. Those books transported me to different worlds and circumstances far removed from my own life.
Charles Dickens’ stories took me on a journey to the vibrant streets of Victorian London, where I came to know many interesting characters from different backgrounds. His storytelling brought me into the lives of orphans like Oliver Twist which made me understand the challenges faced by the working class in “Hard Times,” and introduced me to the mysterious Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens’ tales not only transported me to a different time but also inspired my interest in exploring different viewpoints and social problems.
Anton Chekhov’s short stories were short but full of meaning. They gave me a glimpse into Russian life and showed the struggles of people dealing with their feelings and rules of their society. I really connected with his characters. Chekhov’s stories made me think about how people feel, the problems they face, and how they relate to each other. This made me curious about why people think and act the way they do. This made me appreciate the beauty of telling a story in a subtle way.
Rabindranath Tagore’s tales were set in India, and they made me understand the culture and traditions there. Characters like Bimala in “The Home and the World” showed the strength of Indian women in changing times.
Roald Dahl’s whimsical tales whisked me away to fantastical realms where the impossible became possible. His quirky characters like Matilda and Willy Wonka made me believe in the magic of imagination. Dahl’s stories instilled in me a sense of wonder and the belief that there is enchantment to be found even in the ordinary.
Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” introduced me to the heart of America in the 19th century. Through the mischievous Tom Sawyer and the adventurous Huck Finn, I journeyed along the Mississippi River, encountering the complexities of race, friendship, and freedom. Twain’s narratives sparked my curiosity about American history and culture.
Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” took me on a voyage to lands both strange and satirical. Gulliver’s encounters with the tiny Lilliputians and the giant Brobdingnagians, among others, exposed me to Swift’s sharp social commentary and wit. His work encouraged me to explore the power of satire in literature.
Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days” transported me on a thrilling global adventure with the intrepid Phileas Fogg. From the bustling streets of London to exotic locales across continents, Verne’s narrative kindled my passion for exploration and ignited a wanderlust for the unknown.
Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” introduced me to the enchanting forests of India through the eyes of Mowgli and his animal companions. Kipling’s stories celebrated the beauty of the natural world and taught me about the interconnectedness of all living beings. His tales inspired a love for nature and a deep respect for wildlife.
Anna Sewell’s “Black Beauty” offered a glimpse into the world of horses, narrated from the perspective of the titular character. Through Black Beauty’s trials and triumphs, I learned about empathy, compassion, and the importance of treating all creatures with kindness.
These diverse stories from around the world, each with its unique set of characters and settings, have collectively shaped my literary journey, fostering a deep appreciation for the richness of global storytelling and the power of literature to broaden one’s horizons. They have ignited a lifelong passion for reading, encouraging me to explore the multifaceted tapestry of human experiences and cultures through the pages of a book.
During that period, I found myself in the company of two friends, both fervent lovers of literature. It was in their company that I had the privilege of acquainting myself with luminaries of Nepali literature such as Lakshmi Prasad Devkota, Parijat, B. P. Koirala, Guruprasad Mainali, Balakrishna Sama, Pushkar Samser, Shankar Laamichhane, among others illustrious personalities who skillfully wielded their pens in the realm of Nepali literature.
We used to meet up and read books together. We also shared and swapped books with each other. These books helped me understand our native milieu and the intricate fabric of our village society. I was truly amazed by the eloquence and beauty of the language used by these literary figures. Perhaps it was because they were speaking in my native tongue, but every word they used seemed to have a magical effect on my heart, as though they were casting a spell with their words. Whether I was on vacation or just going about my daily routine, I always had a book with me. I was addicted to reading in a way. This addiction was not like the addiction that harm the brain which happens by using drugs. Instead, it was something that brought joy to the intellect and made the brain feel more powerful. In my own experience, reading is an intellectual inebriation.
After completing my school years, I moved on to college. Despite my study on commerce in intermediate, I never gave up my love for literature. As time passed, my passion shifted towards books that explore profound ideas about life and philosophy. I often found myself immersed in my quest for books that piqued my interest. I would lose track of time while exploring the footpath bookshops that stretched from NAC to the Newroad gate in Kathmandu. The dusty tomes in the National Library at Harihar Bhawan, Pulchowk, were another place where I would frequently get lost in the world of literature. Additionally, the narrow alleys of Bagbazar and Bhrikutimandap were my go-to spots for hunting down old and affordable second-hand books. In these places, I explored various books in my quest for knowledge about life and philosophy. I’ve delved into “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder, ventured into Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil,” experimented with Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness,” embraced Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus,” lived through the philosophical dialogues in Plato’s “The Last Days of Socrates,” and listened to Saint Augustine’s “Confessions.” These books have fueled my curiosity to learn more about life and what lies beyond it.
During that period, I found Osho’s books to be truly captivating. They not only stimulated my intellect but also drew me into the deeper world of spirituality. To grasp Osho’s teachings better, I even befriended some of his followers. Although I deeply admired Osho, I never officially joined his following. However, I am a big fan of Osho. Osho had a unique way of blending spirituality into his literary works, which I found truly fascinating.
Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to read a book by Shree Shree Paramhansa Yogananda titled “An Autobiography of a Yogi.” This book beautifully presents the purpose of life, yoga and meditation, living a simple and content life, helping others, mystical experiences, and the relationship between a Guru and a disciple. I also read his other works, which offered valuable insights into the art of living. His books truly inspired me. I learned that reading books is understanding about life from different perspectives. The more we read different kinds of books, the deeper we dive into the secrets of life. We start to understand both other people and the world we live in. Life keeps moving forward, and our knowledge keeps growing along with it. In reading, we find the secrets of life. In reading, we uncover life’s hidden truths that we might never get to experience firsthand in our own lifetime.