How (not) to read

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I read an average of 2-3 books per month. I know I read more than most people and less than many. A good place to be, right? But sometimes, when I go on my Goodreads feed- I see an update from a former English teacher of mine, I go a little green. Her Goodreads ‘bookshelf’ has more than 5 times the expanse of mine- and counting. Now I don’t regularly update my Goodreads, and I’m sure some books fall through the cracks for her too. But still, the disparity of actual reading is the same, I believe.

I don’t read only books. I’m also a terrible addict of short stories- I hound The New Yorker and The Atlantic for these. I also read blogs, articles — especially the longform ones and magazines. And, I am not professionally even close to the literary world. I am an engineer in the petroleum industry, where the wheels are turning 24×7. I am working at the office for nearly 12 hours a day and must be available for the rest 12- that is the profile. The weekly day-off comes with no guarantee either. So I think I should be content with my reading score. But then, every time I see my English teacher update her Goodreads, I feel a little stab of disappointment. So, on several occasions, I have gone online searching for ‘how to read more books’ or ‘how to be a fast reader’ or‘how to increase reading speed’.

Several websites point to ‘speed-reading’- which involves meticulous techniques like using your finger to point words as you read, or using a pen with its cap on to ‘underline’ words as you read. These help you in pacing yourself uniformly and not get stuck in an endless loop on a sentence or paragraph because of distraction.

Then there are those gems of advice- ‘don’t read it all’. Some even claim that an average book has at best two ideas worth reading. Read those- chuck the rest. What pompous disregard!

Another sect of speed-readers advise you to keep in mind what you want from the book. In my humble opinion, this goes against the fundamental tenet of reading. Every book shapes my thinking, my outlook on life in its own way. To wedge it in an expectation before reading would be limiting my own self in a way.

I am not judging anyone who speed-reads according to these principles. But to read, there cannot be any rules. I cannot read Look Homeward, Angel at the same pace as I read Harry Potter. Or One Hundred Years of Solitude at the same pace as The Fault in Our Stars. And one mighty well shouldn’t. Books are like little pools of wisdom in your hand that you soak- some are deeper and need more time to be soaked.

I think there is really one way to read:

However you like.

At whatever pace I may read, I can only hope to take in and away from it as much as I can.

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Ladakh Pt. 2 (Tea et. al)

So, as I have already mentioned, I had already been enticed by the sight of Himalayan Pink Tea. I knew nothing about it except that it’s found in Kashmir, it’s pink in color and it is salty- I didn’t even know if it’s actually called Pink Tea! I know you might be scoffing that I am adding drama for the sake of it because ‘Google!’. But, let me remind you, in Ladakh, your telecom provider will ditch you like dead weight on a sinking ship. We had to go down to the hotel reception to every time we had to call home.

Anyway, A is a bit of a skeptic when it comes to trying new food- he strictly believes in the not-getting-food-poisined-by-eating-in-shady-places. Pfft! Boooring, right? Anyway, as we went back to our hotel, I checked the in-house restaurant’s menu (checking menus and fantasizing about eating happens to be a favorite pastime of mine). I noticed something called ‘Kahwah Tea’ lurking surreptitiously in what is admittedly a surprisingly long section of the menu dedicated ‘Tea’s. On enquiry, we found out it is a type of Ladakhi (or was it Kashmiri? Is that different?) tea with nuts and saffron. I asked, all excited, ‘Is it pink tea?’ The person was like, ‘Ye-ah, it’s pink.’ I knew it probablt wasn’t but it did sound intriguing. I ordered and within 10 minutes the room service arrived. Well, I don’t want to spoil Kahwah for you but it broke my heart a little when I saw the tall glass of syrupy yellow liquid with flecks of almond and saffron floating in it. This wasn’t my PINK TEA! I did however sip it glumly as A smirked from his chair.

The next day, we headed down the market to have real, proper Pink Tea. I asked in shops and people stared back, clueless. And this was not just any shop- even those selling teas didn’t know what Pink Tea is! At this point, I was wondering if Pink Tea even existed? Is it a myth? However, the last dry fruits shop we asked about Pink Tea (A was getting very irritated by now, conveyed through eloquent grunts and huffs) told us to try at the Himalayan Cafe. I wasted no time and strode into the Himalayan Cafe. Here we met the surliest barista ever. I asked about Pink Tea. He asked, ‘Tibetan Butter Tea?’ By now, I had all but given up. Butter Tea. Yes, why not?

Well readers, I had heard Butter Tea was a type of traditional Tibetan tea where tea and yak butter are emulsified in a thick, milky tea. From this description do you imagine your Butter Tea to be the consistency of plain water? Or have the taste of salty, hot water that you use to gargle when you have sore throat? Or smell of absolutely NOTHING?? We did not have more than a few quick and painful swallows of the hot water. And suffice it so say, my quest for the elusive Pink Tea remains unfulfilled to this day.

Ladakh Pt. 1 (Leh lays it thin)

Let me start off with a confession that you will find exemplified in my posts time and again: I am lazy and I love comfort. I am all for seeking nirvana as long as I am well-fed and have a soft bed and a downy blanket to curl inside at night. So, to me, Ladakh is not motoring on the highest motorable road, but rather gazing at the expanse of formidable mountains from inside a fully air-conditioned SUV and trying to conjure some befitting poetry. Add to the mix, my city-(and all its amenities)-loving husband, A, whose idea of ‘adventure’ quite aligns with mine.

So, I urge you reader, if you want soul searching, living off the rucksack of clothes, beware- the following is not your cup of tea. We prefer to pack lots of clothes, take full advantage of the free luggage limit (and fit some more in our deceptively small hand baggage totes) and seldom repeat a single outfit. Welcome to the hedonists’ venture into soul-searching.

We had a really hectic flight schedule- which included an overnight stay at the IGI Airport followed by a red-eye to Leh. Boy weren’t we glad that the first day at Leh was an ‘off-day’ of sorts. We were expected to stay indoors, get acclimated to the sparse atmosphere over the course of the day.

Now, we are by no athletes. But we are healthy individuals with no history of breathing problems (unless you consider my wheezy mouth-breathing every time I catch a cold). Taking into consideration the various embarrassing cautionary tales recounted by friends and family who have visited Ladakh, we were very consciously measuring our steps- careful not to hurry or we might collapse. We did fine but it was certainly tiring to be so slow (who knew?).

We visited around mid-July and the weather this time is tricky. It’s quite hot and dry during the day but as the sun lulls westward, the chilliness swiftly follows. And it cools down quickly. We visited the Leh market and were quickly stunned by the variety of stores. This market is bigger and more versatile than most hilltop markets I’ve seen- Manali, Darjeeling, Dharamshala. There is the token ‘Tibetan’ market, roadside fruitsellers selling the most unbelievably gorgeous fruits, dry fruit shops, Ladakhi embroidery and woollen stores and cafes! So many cafes! There’s a Brazilian cafe, which is hard to spot even in a metropolitan city. There are Himalayan cafes, Tibetan cafes, Punjabi cafes and what not. There’s a great bakery at the entrance of the market that sells the most delicious fruit pies.

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We weren’t going to buy anything, just browsing and were stunned by the colourful market. I saw a person squatting by the pavement and drinking from what looked like a steaming cup of gelusil! And it immediately hit me- the salty pink tea I read about in Shalimar the Clown. And I had to have some… But the path to pink tea is not a rosy one! More of that in next post.