Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Why do we read on public transport?

Last year, I made a resolution that, instead of watching three Bollywood movies back-to-back on the nine hour flights I undertake three times a year from Mumbai to London, I would spend my time reading books. I was so excited by the prospect that I actually did the math. Even assuming that I would take around eight hours to complete a typical 300 page novel, this would mean six novels ticked off my bucket list every year, courtesy of long-haul flights.

As someone who constantly feels guilty about reading very little beyond academic requirements – especially when she recalls how she used to devour novels as a kid –  but simultaneously gets distracted by every electronic beep when she’s reading for fun, eventually losing motivation (“I’m a politics student; I’m required to read far too much every week anyway!”), the long hours of an international flight signal a realm of endless possibilities, without the distraction of constant pings. I feel a child-like excitement every time I enter the bookshop near the gates, scanning the shelves to pick up a read for the next few hours.

every time you pick up a paperback (or a Kindle), you automatically feel guilty of self- indulgence

In this increasingly fragmented world wherein a gazillion things seem to be competing for our attention, reading a novel has come to be viewed as a luxury. If you’re like me, every time you pick up a paperback (or a Kindle), you automatically feel guilty of self- indulgence. “Shouldn’t I be doing something else? Washing the dirty dishes from last night? Going to the gym? What about going out to dinner with that friend I haven’t caught up with in ages?”

Hence, there is a preference for reading on transport. Whether you’re on the bus into Leam during rush hour, a Friday evening London-bound train, or a flight back home, the positive side of being stuck on a commute means that you aren’t rushing anywhere for a while, making this an ideal time to plug in those earphones and disappear into a book.

It helps you to patiently deal with long commutes

Even if, like me, you’re one of those unfortunate people who gets nausea from reading on an abruptly moving vehicle, you can always read stuff on your phone. How many times does it happen that, while hurriedly scrolling through your Facebook feed when getting out of bed in the morning, you come across an interesting article or blog post that you don’t have the time for? Save those for impending commutes later in the day. I, for one, use the morning commute to campus to catch up on the news, which, as a politics student, I’m supposed to be on top of, though am not quite often! I’ve also noticed people catching up with their seminar readings. I’m quite envious: I would never be able to do that without hurling my breakfast!

To sum up, I think that reading on transport is an extremely smart and productive utilisation of time, whether the purpose is to prepare for classes or just to keep up with a hobby. It helps you to patiently deal with long commutes, which can otherwise be, at worst, agonising.

You see people complain about flights all the time, but honestly, deep down, I love them because I can disappear into an alternative world for a long stretch of time, without disturbance. At the end of the journey, you emerge happier, satisfied at the good use you’ve made of your time. Guess that’s why I cannot stop grinning like a fool every time I land back home in Mumbai. Or maybe it’s the anticipation of food with actual spice in it? Guess we’ll never know.


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