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I took an interminably long time to finish reading ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. No, not because it was boring, for the opposite was true. It was anything but, an absolutely RIVETING book that I did not want to keep down, but at the same time reading which I needed to pause and assimilate. Besides, I wanted it to go on forever and not get over, ever.

Many times while reading this book, I found myself holding my breath as if reading a thriller or a whodunit. But let me hasten to add it was way better than ANY thriller or whodunit I have read so far. Who would have thought stars, planets, bacteria, earth, geography, DNA, clouds, asteroids, gravity, metals, origin of species, evolution and such would keep me engrossed or that at the end of it all I’d be hungering for more?

I wanted to talk about the things I was reading, someone who would feel the same wonder, and would be interested enough to marvel and explore the book together with me, but there was no one available for discussion. The best I could do was catch the L & M on his return from office, soften him up with a hot drink and blurt out all the amazing facts I read. Never mind if his eyes took on a glassy look after a while, I continued in an Ancient Mariner-sque manner. (I am kidding, he has been a good listener. You can quiz him on many of the facts I stuffed his ears with, like the one where the book says that for bacteria the weave of an old pillow cover is like a ship’s rigging).

If you must know, I had severed connection with science (as taught in schools) when I was done with tenth grade and have had no regret about it since. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the mere thought of the lessons on levers and pulleys gives me headache even after all these years. As for biology, I have some vague (very vague) idea of parts of a flower that we drew and labeled in middle school and the different types of leaf arrangement on plants. That at least is something I remember with fondness because, ahem, I was reasonably good at drawing. Come to think of it, when I look back I find I have left almost everything I was reasonably good (and interested) in like dance, music, drawing & painting, to pursue things I was least interested in, like economics. Ugh. But let me not digress.

Of chemistry my knowledge remains even vaguer. Something when burned has a pink flame, or it could be blue and something else burns when exposed to air or whatever. Who the hell knows. Not me to be sure. Such was my attitude when Science and I parted ways at fifteen years of age (mine, not that of science, obviously), much to our combined relief I guess, mine for obvious reason and as for Science I am sure it didn’t want to be saddled with an apparent dimwit.

Four decades and a book by Bill Bryson later, I am cursing all the textbook writers, every single one of them. If they were even a fraction as good as him, I’d have been somewhere else now. Of course, it depends on parents too. But if textbooks ignite the spark, who knows what lengths we as children might go to get there?

By the way, in case you are interested, you can see some of the highlighted passages from the book here.

©Shail Mohan 2015

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