I came across a post yesterday on social media which said it was World Book Day and that the theme of the year was “share a story”. I am an avid reader of books. In fact my day isn’t done unless I’ve read something. I will literally not be able to fall asleep.
But I wonder if I would have had such an interest in books if I did not have the role model of a voracious reader in Appa. That is the story I choose to share today.
Appa’s knowledge of English did not come from a traditional education in school. It came from reading novels, self-help books, magazines. Anything he could get his hands on. For someone self-taught from these resources, his command on English was impressive.
My earliest memories of books take me back to our living room which had an L-shaped set of wooden cabinets and large shelves. This is probably where my obsession for storage comes from. A story for another day!
Every drawer and shelf had a particular purpose. But what was most striking was the huge wall-mounted bookcases on either side of one wall which were brimming with books.
Appa subscribed to both National Geographic and Reader’s Digest and collected them over the years. By the time I came on the scene at an age where the initial interest in reading by oneself begins to develop, my starting point was an amazing collection of these two content-rich magazines and I soaked it all in!
We also had novels by a wide range of authors. I entered my teens with Enid Blyton, Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene introducing delightful characters practically everyone of my generation identified and grew up with. I also had many classics to read and thoroughly enjoyed those too such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Little Women and many others.
Our homegrown Amar Chitra Katha wasn’t left behind either as we got introduced to several epics, fables and wonderful imaginative stories, all with colourful illustrations that held our attention. Thanks to Tinkle, I even had many pen pals during my childhood from various corners of India which was the social network of the 80s and early 90s.
As I grew up, so did my interest in Jeffrey Archer, Robert Ludlum and Wilbur Smith. Over the years many Indian and international authors joined that list, both fiction and fact writers.
Two authors who absolutely had me in their spell were both women. While Colleen McCullough left me speechless with her Thornbirds, Ayn Rand inspired and influenced me with Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
John Grisham joined the list when legal and courtroom drama made his books difficult to put down.
Speaking of difficult to put down, I once began reading The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. This wasn’t the first time I was reading it but I was revisiting it after several years. I had the day off and thought to use the time to get some reading in. I began to read after breakfast and I came up for air only in the late evening when the bell rang and my somewhat new husband was at the door, wondering why he hadn’t heard from his wife all day. I still had a couple of chapters to go and told my husband to ignore me for the next hour or so, unable to even take my eyes off the pages while talking to him! This pattern repeated a few times over the years, the most recent in my recollection being A Man Called Ove.
Another very pleasant memory I have with respect to reading is when I found a copy of Ponniyin Selvan, a seven-part epic written by the prolific Tamil writer Kalki. My reading level of Tamil is regrettably kindergarten, so my father-in-law would read the book to me while my in-laws were visiting us. In those three months we finished the entire series. Our very own homegrown Audible book!
Most of the books and authors I read over the years were inspired by what Appa was reading. There are so many more authors and books I would add to the above list but then this story itself would become a novel!
Appa’s own reading unfortunately came to an abrupt end at the peak of his battle with cancer when his hands became too weak to hold a book, and his eyes too tired to focus on the fine lettering. In the early years he would use a magnifying glass and doggedly continue to read but it became really hard as the years progressed. It wasn’t the era of the smartphone in india just yet, neither had Kindle or Audible made an appearance.
Unfortunately that meant as Appa weakened he needed to reserve this strength for the basic tasks of life and the effort of reading just proved to be too much
Appa’s journey with books coming to and end has made me value my relation with books all the more. My journey started from climbing a huge stool to reach those bookshelves and grab a book to read continues to this day.
An entire universe exists inside a book and there is no bigger pleasure in the world than letting oneself be taken into that universe and be swept in the flow of words, characters, plots, twists and a fitting end that ties everything together.
Reading has also become a great stress relief over last year with everything that all of us over the world are going through. If only for a little while, it offers a break from everything going on and a “place” to retreat into while most of us are still locked down and don’t have as many opportunities to be out and about as we used to.
All I can now wish for is that one day, I am one of those authors who takes readers into a journey and my name finds a place in bookshelves. That would truly be coming full circle!
It will probably begin with a book about… Appa!