Books and images

It is almost 20 years since I first read ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathaniel Hawthrone, yet the shock or the feel of anger at the injustice to Hester Prynne is felt even today with the same intensity.

When I happened to read about the writer somewhere recently the bright red letter A stamped on to Hester’s chest is what came to my mind.

Books do leave indelible imprints on our minds. Who could deny that it is the picture of Oliver’s ‘stretched arms pleading’ Please Sir, I want some more’ is what comes to their mind when they think of the novel, Oliver Twist.

When I think of The Great Expectations, the haunting image of the lonely Miss Havisham is wants comes to my mind before anything else. Little Pip standing uncomfortably in front of Miss Havisham in her lonely grotesque mansion.

I remember reading the Autobiography of a Yogi with great interest and I must say it is the image of the yogi’s levitation that springs to my mind as I think about the book.

I happened to chance upon the biography of Einstein and I remarked how in A Personal History by Katherine Graham, she recollects having heard or seen I don’t remember exactly of Einstein going around in circles in a canoe for hours together. Did I make that up? Don’t think so, this is my most enduring image from the book.

How do writers manage to etch these images into the readers mind? What supreme ability to express must lead them to do this or is it mere practice to perfection?

I will conclude this by mentioning an image from a long and often told story of Ramayana.

The Sage Valmiki was a petty robber who looted pilgrims, saints and others who crossed a forest for his livelihood. One day he stopped a few saints and asked them to empty their purses. The saints instead of merely following the instructions of the thug confronted him with questions. They said, So, you live by looting others for your family, but do they partake your sins too? Assured of family support for his profession, Valmiki said, ‘Yes, of course, they do’. The saint asked him to go and get a reality check. The poor robber was pretty disappointed when none in his family came forward to own up or partake his sins. He came back dejected and confessed the same. The saints asked him to chant the name of ‘Rama’ which he did. This led to his realization.

I like this story and the picture of the thief going from his wife to his children seeking support for his nefarious acts brings it alive in my eyes.

So what books have you been reading and what images have stuck in your mind?

Isn’t it interesting how a sole image from a book conveys so much about the story?

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