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Shelf Aware: A Love Affair with Books

  |   Books

I don’t know when I fell in love with words or with books in particular. I do remember very vividly getting the highest marks for English in my 6th standard and then in my 10th board exams. However, we were all told that to be successful, we had to either become an engineer or a doctor, so I had to abandon my interest in literature and language and focus on science and math instead. It was much later while I was in engineering college that my then girlfriend (and now wife, Deepali) rekindled my interest in reading (non-technical books!). I became a voracious reader after I had the means to buy books once I started my career as a software engineer. Soon I started accumulating more books than I could read and ended up becoming a bibliophile, much to the dismay of my wife. I discovered the power of words – both written and oral. I found that words could inspire people to set a bold and audacious goal, that words could build an emotional connect with my team and that words could inspire action for the larger good. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s words, “I made literature my religion”! I have through my writings tried to tell the truth, and use the power of storytelling to spotlight human goodness.

I have often heard my critics say, reading is dead, and many have written the obituary of the book, but I say, read widely, read anything that interests you – fiction, poetry, non-fiction. Every word that was ever written meant something to someone – and it could mean something to you too. I have tried to make the human story the center of my understanding of the world. Reading widely has taught me that we are all flawed, and that that is what makes us human. In fact, it is our faults that make us capable of ensuring goodness. We do not first need to be perfect before we can do what is right and just. After I started writing my column, I found readers in faraway places. In the byte-size world where social media has taken over our lives, I still found readers for essays that tickle the imagination, challenge conventional norms and allow us to think long term. Every time I wanted to stop my column, I was egged on by my editor who told me I had fans who waited to read my biweekly column. So, I continue to write, firstly for myself but then more importantly to be useful. So here is a bonus – Shelf Aware, a collection of 100 essays that has captured my ideas and thoughts through good times and bad, through highs and lows – but always trying to see the world through the lens of beauty and to lift people up!

The book was made special because Nicholas A. Basbanes, one of the greatest book scholars in the world, wrote the foreword and Pradeep Sebastian, India’s finest bibliophile, wrote the afterword. A few days before the book went to print, I received a blurb from Dr Shashi Tharoor. It was a fan boy moment for me – I have read most of his books and one of his earliest ones, Riot, remains a favorite. An early version of this book was read by three fantastic intellectuals: former Los Angeles Times book review editor Steve Wasserman, award winning author Anita Nair and one of India’s finest actors Adil Hussein. I am grateful for their support and feedback. The beautiful cover design and the entire book layout is by the brilliant artistic duo of Angie and Upesh. The editing by Abhivyakti from Hachette is impeccable.

But the highlight for me is the illustration by Anshika, Adarsh, Pranav, Rohit and Tanush – five outstanding artists on the autism spectrum. They have upcycled my columns so beautifully that you will find yourself appreciating the artwork more than my writing!

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