Saturday, March 12, 2016

Reading Jean-Christophe by Romain Rolland

Some books are memorable because of the stories they tell, some because of the sheer beauty of their prose, others because of the power they have to change something important in us, in a subtle way. Some books are memorable just because of the circumstances in which we read them. If we read a large enough number of books, we are bound to remember one for all these reasons.

It was the mid-seventies and it was winter. December, I think. The engineering exams were comfortably far away. I was looking for something to read. A particular book had been on my mind for a long time. My father had spoken highly of it. The subject of the novel, or the protagonist, was of great interest to me as well. It was Ludwig von Beethoven – one of the greatest music composers of all times – fictionalized in this novel and called Jean-Christophe, not Beethoven.

I had been introduced to Beethoven’s music, notably his fifth symphony, by a very unlikely person. He was my teacher at the engineering college. He had taught us Hydraulics. He was a very colourful character and was a legend. He deserves, no, demands a separate blog post. He shall get one too, soon. I had also heard some LPs of Beethoven’s music at my father’s friend’s place. More about him too in another post.

I had not gotten around to reading the book because it looked forbidding. Some thousand five hundred odd pages. Modern Library edition. Not that the number was forbidding in itself. It was just that I did not want to start a book like that and stop after some time due to some unexpected reason. In any case, I did take up that book and things fell into place. For some unremembered reason, I had a few days off from college. I decided that I could finish the book without a break. As if to ensure that I did just that, a cyclone hit the Bay of Bengal and it started raining in Mysore and did not stop for five days.

My father was away from Mysore on some engagement and my sisters were not at home, most of the day. Perhaps they did not have a break in their school or college. So, my day started with a cup of coffee and the book. Soon my mother would call me for breakfast. I would reluctantly keep the book down, have a bath, and have breakfast. With the post-breakfast coffee, I got back to my reading. Mid-morning, mom would ask me if it was time for tea. I would generously offer to make tea. We would have it together. Then I read till lunch. You get the idea, I am sure. The reading day was punctuated by eating and other essential activities.  The incessant, steady rain preempted any thoughts of going out except for essentials. It was cold, humid and the steady sound, which is white noise, lulling me into a relaxed state.

 Please see the note at the end, about the picture

My reading posture and place. A corner of a room. Windows on both walls. A rattan easy chair. Legs up on the window sill. I in my white dhoti and banian. Reading lamp on, even during the day, thanks to the dark days with grey low-hanging Stratus clouds. The wind – blustery. The ebb and tide of the intensity of the rain. A relaxed state of mind. Not a care in the world.

When I think of those days, I can still feel the cold, damp weather. The sound of the rains. 40 years down the road I hardly remember any details of the novel. The memory of the circumstances of reading the book is all that remains.

When I write blog posts, I do so with some purpose. In this case, it is just the joy of sharing the joy the memories bring.

Note: The sketch is unusual for me – drawn from imagination and memory.  People who know me now may wonder if my imagination ran wild when they see the hair. That was in the seventies and I had luxurious and long hair!!! Drawn with  black graphite pencil and digitally converted to sepia.