I have wandered the streets, nooks and corners and alleys of Saint Petersburg with Raskolnikov. I have felt tremors and numbness in my legs when I had to accompany him to the old-lady’s room. I have often got entangled in the arguments of Mitya, Vanya and Alyosha and lost in thoughts. But how I met Dostoyevsky himself is rather a pleasant memory of my undergraduate days.
You may all have stories of how you found your own much-loved writers. My story took its beginning when I was an undergraduate student of English literature.
If my memory serves right, I started reading literary texts when I was in eighth standard. I was fortunate to have a friend who was six years elder to me at that time. He was instrumental in orienting my readings into thicker, longer versions of the stories I unearthed in the little magazines.
Both of us were huge book-lovers and have gone to various libraries on foot, trekking for miles, walking on the mud-parapets, crossing the paddy fields. He prompted me to read books like Asuravitth, Ummaacchu, Sundharikalum Sundharanmaarum.
The memories of going to various libraries are etched in my mind. This particular library where I met Dostoevsky was in a sorry state. It was not actually a library, but one displaced to a stitching institute owing to lack of funds. It did not have a regular staff and most of the times it remained closed. One lady was entrusted to look after it, but she hardly turned up. Many authors, from Dickens to Thomas Hardy to Vaikom Muhammed Basheer enjoyed the rhythm of scissors, that too from the hands of adorable damsels. Basheer would have written secret letters to them, for sure. He would have been the most sensitive to be intoxicated by the scents of oil and talcum powder filling the room.
There were two, three big shelves of books in no order. It was a library which lost its glory and the authors in the shelves felt claustrophobic. The occasional, lucky readers sometimes gave these authors an outing. It was in such chaos that I met Dostoyevsky in ‘Choothaattakkaaran’ (The Gambler). He was a big gambler himself who gave everything to the game.
when I reached home and started reading the book, I was overcome by an unprecedented emotional turmoil. I used to be an avid reader then, who would not care for anything including food. I could just lie down in my bed and read for hours together. Now, such marathon readings seem unachievable, maybe you enjoy the book differently when you are older.
Once I finished the novel, I could not control my emotions. I was literally jumping in my room out of psychic explosion. When I felt that I would be unable to contain my feelings, I dressed myself and ran to the public telephone booth. I had a mobile phone then. Maybe there was no balance, I am not sure. I called up one of my graduation friends who was as crazy as me over books.
We had this strange habit of calling each other in the middle of reading, if we are overwhelmed by certain passages. Mostly, I used to call him. Then, I would read out the passages that touched me. Then, we would discuss n-number of things about the book each of us has been reading. We were lovers through books.
I do not exactly remember what all I talked to him about The Gambler. But I am sure I spilled my beans for more than half an hour and he patiently listened to all my outpourings. I would have told him how much I felt like pulling Dostoyevsky from the gambling table, just to put some sense into his ears. Or, how much I enjoyed being at the table with him, as agitated as he was! Or, I would have joined in his cursing his luck at one moment, and the instant consolation that being part of the game is more important, not winning. I would have felt pity for his sufferings and envied his resilience in hardships.
I have been hooked on to him then, once and for all.