It’s a void. A feeling of emptiness you feel when you finish reading a good book, a book in which you have identified with the ups and downs of the character as he goes through his life. Unfortunately for me, I get under the skin of the character. I fall in love when he falls in love, I cry when he cries. I feel the pain when he loses and feel the euphoria when he rises to the pinnacle of his career. At times when he is feeling low I feel my life is a bottomless pit.
I admire several people in my life who are voracious readers. They can go deep into the night and devour a book cover to cover in a couple of days or lesser and as soon as one is over they warm up to a new one and life is fun for them. I am exactly opposite, on most days when I read I am sitting with a pencil in my hand to underline the lines I like in that book, which as per my calculations is a better thing to do now as earlier I used to sit with a ruler to draw those lines perfectly straight. I make a few notes and comments on the side columns from time to time. As I am congenitally linguistically challenged, most days I need to sit with some form of dictionary at hand to understand what the author just said when he used a big word I have never seen before. I sometimes like to close my eyes and ponder deeper or rather delve meticulously into the feelings that my character is going through. To add to that, my ageing eyes need rest from time to time. With all these chores and paraphernalia while reading, I end up taking a week to a month or sometimes even more to finish a book especially if it’s a big fat one. Another aspect of my reading habits is that as I approach the end of a good book, I agonizingly slow down the pace at which I read, I somehow want the book to go on. Although I enjoy doing that, the down side is that I will read only a few more books in this lifetime. Choosing a book itself is a big time consuming exercise for me. I don’t like reading fiction that much, so I am left with very few books like autobiographies and self-help books which according to my psychologically feeble mind is what helps me get through difficult aspects of my life. Of course according to Bhakti (My Wife), that’s the reason I look sad all the time. She keeps telling me to read happy stuff. I am getting there, and I think I should get to reading cooking recipe books, the food will surely keep me happy and I will stay away from fiction. Another genre worth exploring for me is travel guides and related stuff, but I find that too distracting as I get lost in the photographs in those and end up not finishing the stuff I started to read.
The last book that bought out these overwhelming emotional feelings in me, the one that I underlined in a lot was, “OPEN”, an absolutely stunning autobiography of the life of tennis rock star Andre Agassi. I read it hesitantly on a strong recommendation of one my close friends. I know that in cricketing times like these I must stay away from writing about other sports. But I have moved away from cricket, grown up a bit, plus I really don’t have the patience to wait all day to see one team win especially as our cricket captain is the last man standing whom I love and rest of the team is just too new for me to identify with.
As I read through the first page of this book, I immediately got hooked onto it. This cohesively written book has an eloquence that I did not expect from a professional athlete, it took me by surprise. It’s designed like a fast paced action and emotional thriller .It takes you through the inner chasms of the professional and personal life of a celebrity who was misunderstood and clearly not loved all the time, not only by his fans and family but even by himself. To rise above the demons in your mind and conquer the world in your sport and finding a purpose higher than wealth to do it, left me awestruck.
A perfectionist and a rebel to the core, I identified with a lot of personality traits that I read in the book. In fact at one point, he says that even after winning a big slam, he did not feel inner happiness that he was expecting to experience. After finishing the book, I realized that the only thing we need, to do well in our lives is not wealth, but Inspiration and the security of being loved. There are times when I am doing my best work and showing it to the best audiences, but in my heart I know I am still not where I want to be, I don’t know where I am heading at times, although most people my age seem to be well sorted out. I know that I need to get inspired all the time. Sometimes, that inspiration comes from my father, who is my hero, for his “hard work” ethic and positively energized demeanour that allows him to work all day at age of 80. Sometimes I derive it from my daughters who spew love around me and keep me going. There are times when it comes from Bhakti who is always happy about something or the other in life and sometimes she is even happy for no apparent reason at all. But the greatest inspiration and the one that keeps me going for the longest time is the one that comes from my inner voice. It’s usually, very mean to me, my inner voice. Does not allow me to be at peace so easily, keeps beating me up frequently for the lapses in my life. It’s most active late night and early mornings and keeps looking out for me to be alone and then it starts talking. Sometimes, on good days, it talks to inspire me, gives me some reason for which I must bend my back and slog it out to achieve that little extra from my life. On a bad day, almost masochistically, it puts me on a “self – destruct” mode. Life, I feel for me, is all about learning to tame my inner voice and making it do more positive things for me.
There are some really candid thoughts in this book that we are talking about. Some really funny scenes too. My favourite is the dialogue between Agassi and Steffi Graf when the latter realizes she is pregnant. The entire episode of Agassi finding his love in Steffi and pursuing her is almost described “as an invasion of Germany by land and sea”. For a person who admits that he hated tennis since his turbulent childhood days and rebels throughout his life against it, allowing drugs to take over for a while and then taming his inner voice and finding purpose and inspiration to go on and be ranked as number one and win a career “Golden Slam” (all four Grand Slam singles title plus the Olympic Gold medal) is a huge achievement. His records are overwhelming but what he personally achieved for himself after his 20 odd years playing tennis is admirable as he retired as a happy man with a purpose in life; the formation of the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education. He raised millions of dollars for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, an acclaimed school for underprivileged children, this purpose allowed him to play tennis long after his peers retired. What a life!! At the age of 7 years if someone had told him he would do all this in his life he would have not believed him.
For these little things and much more the book is worth a read, worth gaining inspiration from, worth going through a life that has so many highs and lows and still comes out a winner on all fronts. It’s a good way to OPEN your mind to the immense possibilities that life has to offer once you conquer and control that little inner voice.