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  • Ninay Desai

A Page in Time

Books are perhaps the most efficient, inexpensive and ubiquitous manifestation of time travel. You and I could be sitting next to each other on a park bench, travelling to different worlds and eras, and neither of us would have moved an inch or noticed anything out of the ordinary. Now that’s teleportation without migration!

Reading beside a stream

What’s more, we also meet new people in the form of characters and they accompany us on our travels, sometimes imbuing our impressions in colours from their own palettes. For instance, we see Pip’s world through his eyes in Great Expectations, making him both the protagonist of the story and our guide. But our tourism of different ages and worlds is not limited to first person narratives. It works even if the narrator speaks in the third person, is sarcastic or given to flights of fancy.

Dog reading a book

A photograph, a video clip or film can also take us back in time but books have the added element of individual imagination that makes the trip more personal. Anyone who ever imagined what a character looks like, the eeriness of a crooked, haunted house or the sound of a dragon's roar can vouch for this. However, what is essential to this form of travel is atmosphere and context. Without them, your experience isn’t likely to be immersive. That’s something I learnt in college, majoring in English literature. It wasn’t enough to read the novel, poem or play. That was the bare minimum. To acquaint oneself with the social, political and economic happenings of the time was crucial to gain a better understanding of what one was reading.

In fact, that’s a good thing to remember even for the times we live in– when a tweet can get one cancelled and reactions go viral in a matter of minutes. All this promptness is all very well but to be cognizant of context is crucial to understanding almost anything. This is where books can help.

A close shot of a pocket watch against the backdrop of a few branches and leaves in soft focus with bright light illuminating all. The time is five minutes to one.

Reading is essentially meditative. To read with the benefit of context allows you to see more deeply and have empathy for what people in times different from our own have been through. Sure, we can laugh or turn up our noses safe in the false belief that we would’ve known and done better. Perhaps. But most likely, not. I believe it is a rare person indeed who would admit that they would’ve been on the wrong side of history had they lived in another time.

Speaking of another time, rereading a book can also be a delicious experience. Like indulging in a favourite comfort food like a chicken potpie. You can count on it to soothe you after a long day or be the please-all, fail-safe option for a Sunday lunch. Sadly, in the case of some of my favourite books, I don’t recall my first impressions but can safely say that they were probably different from what I think of them now. Perhaps, because I have changed. Even if the book remains the same.

Girl reading a book

I remember reading Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince, for the first time, as a teenager. My father had recommended it. I liked the whimsical story-telling and the charming characters, especially the protagonist and his friends on Earth – the pilot and the fox. Over the years, I’ve reread it a couple of times, discovering new layers and the pithiness of its observations. You could say that the Little Prince allowed me to accompany him not only to the planets he visited but also my own past self. Like the author Celeste Ng puts it,

“The story is truly finished – and meaning is made – not when the author adds the last period, but when the reader enters.”

In that sense, every reader brings their own story to the page just as the writer unfurls their tale. If you don’t see it, you haven’t looked closely enough at the blank spaces between the lines on the page. Somewhere in the confluence of the two is the world of words. And so, perhaps books aren’t just a means to travel through time, they’re also a portal into multiple universes created every time someone cracks open a book.

Anyway, I got to go now. There’s a haunted ship, the world’s greatest detective and a few thousand damned souls waiting for me in the year 1634. See you when I return from my travels.

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4 comentários

14 de jan.

Appreciate the proficient writing…..Ninay. 👍 As said by Mary Schmich, “Reading is indeed a discount ticket to everywhere.” 📖

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
14 de jan.
Respondendo a

Thank you for reading and commenting. And thanks for introducing me to this delightful quote. Mary Schmich really hit the mark with it!


03 de set. de 2023

Absolutely, Ninay Desai! Books are our timeless portals to countless adventures, eras, and realities, all while staying in one place. It's the magic of literature that takes us on journeys without ever leaving our seat. Well expressed! 📚🌟

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
04 de set. de 2023
Respondendo a

So true, Portia! That's exactly what books can be... magical! Have a great day!

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