It could only begin with one sentence or rather two words, “I read”. There is no other way to begin my love for books, the intense passion towards them and almost the thought that I believe in so strongly: Everything began in my life when a book was given to me. My mother has always been a reader. With time she reads less, however in her time when she did, she managed to read almost everything that was worth reading. From a very early age, the concept of reading was engrained in me and my siblings. Watching movies was not encouraged all that much, so we had to invariably fall back on books to give shape and colour to our dreams and weave the web of endless imagination. The idea of reading time appealed to all of us. We would wait for that time of the day, when having completed our homework and gone through the monotony of studies, we could reach out and finish the book that we had started, or at least try and finish it. To us, that was the world.
I remember my siblings and I saving all our pocket money (well most of it in retrospect) and going to “Reader’s Paradise” at Breach Candy with my mother and buying books. Each would ensure that different books would be bought, so we could share. The first thing we did at school was join the school library. Our mother borrowed International books for children for us from the British Library. In short, there was never a short supply of books. There were everywhere in the house, sneaking up on us from every corner. There were friends – some old and some new and my parents taught us about them, and made us see their importance.
“Cable TV” was the new buzzword while I was growing up. Almost every household had subscribed to it, except ours. My parents were dead against the idea. They did not want us to watch “rubbish” was my mother not-so-eloquently put it. Books on the other hand were encouraged to be bought and read all the time. There were no restrictions except at night-time, where just like other kids who loved reading, we would carry the handy torch to bed and read under the covers.
Life is something else when you are growing up in a world of books. Where you see your parents read. Where your father and mother speak of authors and discuss literary references. That is the power of the written word I guess. The good thing was that my parents never forced books down our throats. What we didn’t like and what we liked was purely left to us. We made our choices even then and rightly so. The usual “Black Beauty” type of books and “Hardy Boys” fanfare was not for me and Mom knew that. Somehow I leaned towards Enid Blyton and the usual comics and my parents did not force me to read anything else. My father tried with gifting me my first copy of “Wuthering Heights” and I will always be grateful to him for that. Heathcliff was my first hero and continues to be so. My mother followed suit and decided that it was time I was introduced to Dickens. I was all of thirteen and read Oliver Twist, and after finishing the book, I became more mindful about my parents.
The world I grew up in encouraged ideas and thinking. As the years progressed, birthday gifts as books became a little more advanced. From Ayn Rand to receiving a copy of Lolita from your mother is something else. She also spoke to me about Lady Chatterley’s Lover and recommended that I must read it. I do not think it was from the perspective of a sexual education, however when it came to literature, my mother believed in not hiding any aspect of it. In her time, she grew up with Mills and Boons, reading three in a day, back to back and made no bones about it. At the same time, she loved her Henry Millers and Bronte Sisters and Jane Austen to Harold Robbins and Georges Perec. Her reading spectrum has always been wide, which sadly is not the case with me. I am a lot pickier and she is not. She gives the book a chance going by the plot (if it interests her) and continues with it, no matter what one has to say. She considers me to a book snob and doesn’t like that. And yet we constantly look to each other to decide what to read next. Always asking each other what was the last read like. Book shopping for her is instinctive. She picks up what fancies her and that is that. There is no changing her mind then. She is as possessive about her collection as I am about mine. No book should be out of place and her order should not be messed with, even if she has no particular order.
I will always be grateful to my parents and more so to my mother for encouraging the reading habit. While the child can develop other hobbies from friends and at school, the culture of reading is homegrown. To a very large extent, it has to take place when parents read to their children and I am glad mine read to me. They opened new lands for me. They made me learn the power of imagination and how important it was to visualize in the mind through the written word. They were not the regular parents and in retrospect I am glad they weren’t. Books ruled their lives and in turn they made them rule mine. They did not impose it though. There were times I just wanted to go down and play. They encouraged that as well and yet they knew that I would always get back to the written word. The world of books would lure me and it did. It continues to do so.