Why Read a Book When Instagramming It Will Do the Job for You?

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Why Read a Book When Instagramming It Will Do the Job for You?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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s a child in Karachi, I grew up around books, encouraged by Amma who drilled a love for the written word into me. But I think I took the phrase “love of books” literally, because while her energy was in trying to get me to love reading, I began to develop a passion for buying.

I’d buy tons of books, judged solely by their covers and carry them around with a vague idea: Now that I was a reader (by my definition), I should be seen with my books. Everywhere around me, people would be doing the same, holding books with titles like Milk and Cow, Bee and Honey (paraphrasing like a boss), and reading them with utter enthusiasm.

I was like, man, this is it. Nothing can stop Pakistan from now becoming a developed country.

Reality dawned when some of my reader friends suggested I make an Instagram account and make myself familiar with a new form of expression. To give in wholeheartedly to “tsundoku”, a Japanese word to indicate the act of collecting books but never actually reading them.

On Instagram, I found such people in hordes. People who love books but not as books, but as a prototype versions of ramp models. Books covered in colorful drapes, around beautiful iconic places, trying to rip them apart in an effort to satiate the desires of an Insta audience. Posing with objects like coffee mugs, colourful markers, blank notepads, expensive gadgets, books seemed beyond recognition. One caption read: A book is to heart what poop is to pee. It was a new world to me.   

Once I saw this, I couldn’t unsee it. Everywhere, groups of giggly girls were holding heavy books and saying, “I think I should pose with this first book while sitting on grass, and the second while basking on the beach.” I realised that Pakistan isn’t going anywhere. It is still brimming with people who will never read a whole book but instead quote Rupi Kaur-inspired one-liners, memes, and amateur poems.

Flowers ask clouds,
Why does it rain,
It whispers slowly,

Rain denotes pain,
And where there is pain,
There is so much to gain.  

We are living in a world where it’s more important to get the gist of something in the most efficient fashion than to explore it fully until it enters your soul. Two hundred and eighty characters, visual memes, four-line poetry that is perfect for snacking and killing time in the middle of your day is all that most of us have the patience for. Our mothers might have tried to instill into us a love for reading whole books, but how typical of us to adapt that love into an Instagrammable post.

Reality dawned when some of my reader friends suggested I make an Instagram account and make myself familiar with a new form of expression. To give in wholeheartedly to “tsundoku”, a Japanese word to indicate the act of collecting books but never actually reading them.

We’ve done the same with food. We watch and share elaborate food videos with perfect plating and masterful techniques but so many of us can’t even boil rice. Boiling rice takes time and if the end result is to put out into social media what you’ve cooked, it’s so much simpler to just plate it or ’gram it than to prepare the whole meal. Why read the book when the title is doing the job for you?

I began to despair for the future of my generation when I heard Amma calling me. She was asking me to bring Jaun Elia’s poetry book and read it to her. When I brought the book, she started off with a derisive, “Tum bachey kya jano ye shayari. A deep red flush spread over my face. I was sure she’d had a moment with her antar-atma and had divined what exactly would make me guilty.

Still, shamelessly, I tried to argue with her. I whipped out my phone immediately, opened Instagram, and frantically looked for verses that would show her that we too had depth. After scrolling past all the tsundoku-type posts with #booklover tags, I finally found one worthy of her attention.

Yaddasht ka tou ye alam hai kay koi baat yaad nahi rehti
Muhabbat ka tou alam hai kay bin bulaye saath nahi deti

There, I looked up at here, feeling as if I’d redeemed my entire generation, not just myself. Amma did not get angry; instead, she smiled as if endlessly amused.  

“Beta,” she said gently, “that is my poem. I’d written it some years ago when my friends suggested I make an Instagram account and share my work with a wider audience.”

What can I say? Embarrassment doesn’t quite cut it. At least I’d realised one thing: that Avengers might defeat Thanos in an infinity war, but I would never be able to defeat Amma in the war of words.

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