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The Dictionary

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I was laying there, collecting dust since the bookshop owner bought me 8 months ago.  Every day I see so many kinds of people come in. It’s intriguing to see the amount of value books hold in the lives of people and the unrealistic expectations that people put on a mere bundle of printed pieces of flattened wood. I see children come in to find something with cartoons In it, students who come in hoping this one book might help them pass the exam they dread more than the end of the world, middle-aged people who hope that book will help them get that dream job and their lives will finally be happy (change forever). And then some people seem oblivious to all this struggle. They just come in to buy books to feed their curiosity. It was a second-tier town, so evidently, people of the last type didn’t come very often.  

I wonder why they don’t pick me as much as they pick other books. Not to brag but I have more unique words than all the other books combined. And they all must come back to me if they face a piece of literature that they can’t quite comprehend. I might have been sold way sooner If I was one of those ‘study guides’ that these students claim to do miracles. It is uncanny how every book written in the same language sells more than the very book that is a guide that helps grasp the essence of the most poetic and intricately complex words of that same language.  

Days became months and months went by. I waited and waited. I still lay there. And one day it happens. My time arrives. My time to be part of someone’s intellectual journey. It is my turn to help someone delve into the deeper beauty of words. A young lady comes in. She looks like she has just returned from college.  I didn’t think much of her at first, just another young woman who came to buy a textbook for an exam that’s nearby. But to my surprise “Do you have an English dictionary” she asks. The book shop owner picks a big dictionary and gives it to her. I sigh at my misfortune because I am not the big guy, I am what they call the Minidictionary.  “Don’t you have a smaller version?” she asks. I couldn’t be more overjoyed. Unlike people who buy me like a mere option, an add on to something they already bought. She specifically came in for me. But that joy didn’t last very long. Then she took me to her home only to lock me in a cupboard. Well, at least I was out of the book shop, I thought to myself. 

Then the day comes. She takes me out of the cupboard, hurriedly wraps me up and hands me over to a chubby little boy, who was 5 or 6 years old. Turns out, it was his birthday and he was eagerly waiting for the birthday gift from his favourite person. The boy tears the wrapping and his face changes from excited to confused. The woman chuckles at the look on his face. She tells him it is a dictionary and it can help him if you don’t know the meaning of a word. The boy exclaims with curiosity. The woman had no idea the effect that a small dictionary would have on that boy’s life.   

The boy never left that book since that day. He didn’t know that people usually don’t read dictionaries. He would read as many words as he can every day and his eyes would glow with wonder and curiosity every time he comes across a word or a thing that he never knew and that happened a lot since the boy didn’t know many words. There were no cartoons, there were no stories. It was just an assortment of words, but that was enough to keep that boy’s curiosity occupied. He would tell all those new words he learnt to his friends. To them, it was nothing but gibberish. But to him, those words were tiny bits of joy. Each day he would learn words that start with a different alphabet. He would ask his friends “Hey do you know what entertainment means? You know what enthrallment means?”. His friends would look at him puzzled, and the boy would smile with pride as if he found the lost treasures from those Arabian Nights books.  

Then one day when his mom asks what he was doing he says, “I am reading the dictionary”. She doesn’t understand what he was doing. “why are you reading a dictionary?” she asks. “It has words” he replies. with a confused look on his face. She suddenly breaks into laughter at his innocence. She remembers that she gave him the dictionary but didn’t tell him how to use it and the boy has been reading all the words in the dictionary. She explains to him how to use it and how to look up a word using the alphabet on the edge of the page. The boy exclaims in surprise that a tiny book can explain all other books in the world. As if he just witnessed the invention of fire.  He looks at the dictionary as if it holds the key to all the treasures of the world. He was always reading since that day.   Every time he came across a word which he didn’t know he would look it up and he would smile with satisfaction when he finds what he was looking for. And sometimes he would be really surprised if he couldn’t find that word. It would puzzle him. How could it not be in the Dictionary? The boy just kept on reading and reading. He would read anything he could get his hands on, a storybook, comics, magazines, manuals, documents and just about anything. He loved to read. Nothing would give him more joy than that.  The boy had all the energy of the world in him, he couldn’t sit still at a place longer than a minute, he used to talk so much that his mom would be vexed all the time listening to him. But surprisingly a book could keep him still. It used to take him days to finish a book, he got faster and better at it as he read more and more. Now it takes him only hours to finish a book. All of this somehow quietly sparked a strong love for stories and the joy of reading in him.  

Then the family moved to a big city. New place, new people. It was tough for this small-town boy to fit in with the city dwellers. He had no friends for quite some time. He would go back to reading whenever something upset him.  He would ask his mom to buy a book at the book shop in the railway station every time they board a train to go to their old town.  He loved trains too. The fresh breeze of the evening, lush green fields which reminded him of his old place, spanning as far as you can see, the subtle yellow hue of the sunset and a book to read. Three hours at the window seat of a train and a book in his hands, that was his minuscule paradise. Nothing could bother him until he is done and when he finished, he would come back to the real world, happily tired, subtly smiling with joy and contentment. 

The little boy slowly grew up and so did his love for reading. And gradually those short stories he was reading became too trivial for his brain. He was looking for new things to read. He was twelve and it is a month till the school reopens after the summer vacation. The dad bought all the books needed for his next grade already. And like always he finished reading all the stories as soon as he found them. Then among those books, he finds a novel disguised as a supplementary textbook. He never read a novel before. He thought they were for grown-ups. The book he found was “The Trojan War”. One of the oldest and most worshipped classics of Greek mythology.  It is Greek mythology, so it was undoubtedly overwhelming for a twelve-year-old, but he just dug in. It was like he discovered a whole new world. All the gods, all the great warriors, the eventful stories of fate, he loved every bit of it. He admired Achilles’ bravery and Hercules’ sacrifice, he despised Paris’ cowardice, he admired the uniqueness of every single character and how they blend in taking their parts in that masterful play. That book was his gateway into the creative and amazing world of fiction. And the dictionary became his tool to help him explore all of that. 

Time passed by. He moved out of his house into a hostel. He was always reading there too. He was constantly reading all day, every day. But not the Trojan war kind.  The kind of books that you study not for the fun of it but with the purpose of achieving something. In his case, it was to get accepted into a few of the supposedly best colleges in the country. He enjoyed that too, for a while. Even though he carried me there, I was always locked away in his bag of books. Little did I know that all the fun ended, for both of us. I have never looked up again in search of a word and the boy didn’t read what he likes anymore. There were some rare days now and then, but apart from that nothing exciting happened much.  

The boy moved to a college from there. Far away from home. He carried me there too. At first, it was exciting, as if he was revived from his own life. He discovered new books and for some time he got back to his sweet old joy. Then something started to sneak up on him. He began to change. Maybe it was adulthood, maybe it was life. I didn’t know, neither did he.  That zestful little boy has grown up into a grim young man. It was as if some parasite sucked all that explosive energy away. Reading doesn’t fascinate him like it used to anymore. Nothing interests him anymore. He goes through life slowly, with no excitement about anything, as if he is half asleep all the time, every day is the same.  Life seems so tiresome for him. Some days he just lies in his room, idle all day and gloomy, like a dejected piece of furniture.  As time went by, I forgot to notice that I have aged too. My pages turned from white to yellow. My binding was falling apart. My covers gave in to the wear and tear of time. Pages started to fall off from me.  

One day he happened to notice me by chance, lying in the bag. He was taken aback at the pitiful state I was in. His eyes glistened with tears. He didn’t replace me with a new one. Instead, he immediately brought all the types of glue he could find, and he sat there the entire day, to fix me, page by page. I didn’t realize how much I meant to him till that day, any other kid would have probably bought a new one, but not this kid. Maybe I reminded him of his lost joy of reading or maybe I reminded him of how he used to be. He then kept me on the study table where he could see me every day. He tried to get back at his love for reading but that didn’t last very long before he went back to his desolate way of life.  

  Some days he lets out a deep sigh when he sees me. He looks at me to look at himself a few years ago. He didn’t love what he has become. He didn’t know what he wanted to become. That confusion and the obscurity of his own identity wracked his brain sometimes.   

One day he just stood there. Just staring at me blankly. He stood there as still as a rock, and his eyes were filled with sorrow, thinking of who he is now. He was sad for deeply disappointing that lively child who loved to read and dreamt he could be anything he wants to be one day.  Many days passed by with the same unchanging monotony of life and I still lay here, hoping, that beneath all the melancholy of life, that glum face and that dreary beard, that energetic child who loved to read is still there and one day, he would come back to me with a book and we both will get lost in a slightly more interesting world.   

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