I learned a new word today: tsundoku. In a strange synchronous moment, two unrelated people in my social network mentioned it, and I hurried to the nearest online source (bypassing good old Wikipedia for a somewhat more legitimate site for words — oxforddictionaries.com), to find that it is “a Japanese word that has no direct synonym in English.” But, it more or less translates as “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books.” All my bibliophile friends — and I —promptly hit the like button on those posts, the word having resonated deeply within our beings, faced as we are with overflowing shelves and surfaces occupied almost entirely by books that have turned into good intentions.
So, book-buying-for-deferred-reading is practically a hobby for many of us. It is something we do in our spare time. As opposed to actually reading. Well, that too. In my own list of hobbies, I would count the latter, not the former, as I imagine, would most of you. It is a hobby, we are told, that is worth cultivating. Which brings me to the actual point I want to make in this fortnight’s column — the value of a hobby.
A reader recently wrote to me mentioning a set of questions in the civil services examination that had to do with hobbies (starting with the somewhat obvious therefore puzzling: “what is a hobby?”). Let’s get that one out of the way — a hobby is something we do in leisure, for our pleasure or satisfaction. Reading purely for the pleasure of it (as opposed to studying) for instance. Arts, crafts, or sports, when not done as part of one’s livelihood or profession, would be common hobbies. But, the fact that this could be asked in a national exam of some gravity made me wonder if the idea of a hobby has become outdated in some way. Yes, we all have some leisure, but more often than not, we spend that time doing things that involve screens — watching, scrolling, swiping, clicking. Old-fashioned hobbies such as collecting stamps, coins or other thingamajigs, exercising one’s artistic or creative faculties, like embroidery, baking, carpentry, or more, painting, music, or outdoor activities like gardening or trekking seem to be just that — old fashioned.
A hobby is also something we do with a certain level of persistence, and with no expectation of payback, other than our own satisfaction or enjoyment. It is something we can lose ourselves in, and can keep coming back to. Sometimes they turn into alternative livelihoods, rescuing us when our regular jobs seem to dry up, or helping us energise ourselves from the daily grind. Having a hobby saves us from the wearying routine of our other everyday activities, and reminds us that our minds and hands can do other things. So maybe it is time we got a little old fashioned?
The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus. firstname.lastname@example.org