First school. First friend. First crush. First date. First Job.
We all have plenty of firsts in our lives. And these moments are so important we can (literally!) cherish them forever.
I too have a long list of my first-experiences. But the one that I’m most proud of is reading my first full-length novel in one sitting; the story I read at one go – without eating or sleeping.
It was the story that introduced me to the fascinating world of fiction literature. Although I’ve read a lot of books while growing up, I never read those books in one sitting. But this book, it whipped me right out of reality and drew me into a world I’d give up anything to be a part of.
Now if you’re thinking why I’m talking about my favourite-first, let me tell you something – I came across that novel today.
With the COVID-19 pandemic on our doors and the nationwide lockdowns, I’ve no option but to be home. So this morning, when boredom got the best of me, I decided to clean the house. My vacuum cleaner took me to the storeroom, and eventually, to the piles to my old books. By the looks of it, they’d all been sitting there for years, thrown haphazardly on top of each other like a game of Jenga.
For a moment, I just stared at the books before me – until my eyes landed on Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes – cracked and dry with age.
I opened the book and it smelled dusky and warm, like the inside of an attic. The curled up corners, red lettering on the front cover, and the browned pages – they held my past.
Like a tidal wave, the brittle pages and the spine that was barely holding them together formed mazes that used to be my adolescence. It transported me to the summer of 2008, to the time when I had just wrapped up my school memories.
It took me to the world of Maria and Ralf. To the time when I learnt how important it was to live an unpretentious life, to not be scared of what others may think. To the time I got the first-ever glimpse at what life actually is – the mistakes we commit, our innate need to be loved and accepted for who we are, and the pain we cause ourselves in trying to live someone else’s life. And to the time I learnt there’s always a way to retain the innocence of your soul. There’s always a way to be who you are. There’s always a way to express your deepest desires – no matter how questionable they are.
This tattered book and its musty smell made me think about the simpler times – when I had the liberty to finish a book in one sitting. When I would get into trouble for reading novels in my class. When I would try to see Maria and Ralf in my classmates (I still find some parts of them in the people I know). When I met my partner for the first time and saw Ralf in him who could see my inner light no matter how hidden that was.
Eleven Minutes is the book that got me into the habit of full-fledged reading. It got me into a lot of heated debates with my girlfriends who believed Twilight was a better story. I remember buying this book from my piggy bank savings. I remember being in XIth grade and faking a stomach ache so I could skip supper and go back to my room to read. I remember my mother who walked on me at four in the morning and reprimanded me for never showing the same dedication to textbooks.
Twelve years later (go ahead, do the math), I have read a lot of great stories. I have travelled to places I have never actually been to. But, Characters like Maria and Ralf have grown on me. And books like Eleven Minutes have shaped me into who I am today, so getting to experience it again was not only nostalgic but also comforting.
Today if you ask me about a novel everyone should read at least once in their lifetime, I’d vote for many books, but the one on the top will always be Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes.
Well, why don’t you also share the story of a book that takes you back in time while I go back to find some more memories in my storeroom?