CHAPTER 1 : A soulful rewind into my childhood days.
This is going to be a soulful rewind into my childhood days. Whenever I think about those early days, it is foggy all around and the device I use, which helps me to evaporate the mist is none other than books. Yes, they are the connecting boats to the shores, the shores of my childhood then to the womanhood, which I had abandoned long ago, and we all do abandon not by choice but by force, the force of nature. It has been three decades, but when I kindle those memories with the books, the visuals are more vivid than any other device could have possibly projected into my mind screen. Join me in this personal expedition, into those days when face mask were used only in operation theatres, and lock-downs were imposed only for 48 hrs, which was then termed as ‘Bharath Bandh’by the trade unions. Am sure this will ignite your memories of your childhood days, as I narrate my encounter with books, why am I so sure? Because one way or another we all are connected if not identified with books, that is the power of words, the magic it could unleash upon each one of its reader and seduce us to be its concubine!
The Indian state of Bihar, the place where one of the master story tellers, the English novelist George Orwell was born in the month of June dated 25th and the year was 1903. Striking two things popped up my memory, the way memories jumps out is unpredictable. One thing I connect to George Orwell is his birth date, 25th June, mine is 25th July. The other thing is the place, Bihar is where I could trace the evidence of my affairs with reading and books were set in motion. At the age of 6, I was introduced to reading and books through Hindi language.
I still have the faint memories of going to school early morning, free times at the school ground swing, tasting the smashed potato (jeera aloo) with chapati shared by my friend -classmate. The only book I could recollect from my kindergarten class would be my Hindi Book. It was a copper sulfate blue book cover approximately with a B6 size with colored illustrations for objects representing each alphabet, tiny sentences and numbers. I am truly thankful to my mom. She believes in preserving things, as a result the book found a safe haven in our house enabling me to visit that book once in a while, which fuels the pure joy of nostalgic moments.
Reading is not only about books alone, it could be anything, for instance a magazine. Yesterday when I saw the famous Malayalam weekly magazine, Manorama, which was a vital part of a typical Kerala household. Discussions happened around the stories that get published in this magazine in serial format; it had a huge fan base. Nowadays it got replaced by television dramas. The magazine triggered some memories as well. During our stay in Bihar, this would be the only magazine I get to see at our home. I remember how the access was restricted to those fictional novels which were published periodically, but then it didn’t affect me much as I haven’t learnt to read the Malayalam language. Seeing Manorama triggered the memory about Dad, who brings backs some of these magazine, like some priced possessions, from his native visits. I wonder we all would have seen this kind of magazine which is now in extinction, as result of the developments in the visual mediums? Reading is still alive, maybe the medium we consume the content got shifted.
When I completed the full circle around the sun, our family got shifted back to our native village in Kerala. I was admitted into a nearby primary school. Then my collection of books where very small, which included the Hindi Text book and an English rhyme with illustrations.
The Manorama weekly made their visits to our home along with my Dad during his vacation trips. When he returned back from his vacation, he left behind some of those finished weeklies. I adopted them, because by this time I have learned to read Malayalam, they were special, because otherwise there were no other books apart from the school text books. These weeklies became my friends, in a household, where the other possible books available were The Bible and Hymn books.
Till my fourth standard, I don’t remember reading any book in particular by myself other than the bible stories from Sunday school (catechism) or the Hindu mythology narrated by my grandfather. Later I gained the freedom of reading, without the mom’s assistance for stories, I got permission to access children’s comic weeklies such as Balarama, Balabhoomi and Poompaatta during the Onam, Christmas and summer vacations. These were the regional Malayalam versions for the famous Twinkle published in English. This is how the reading routine went until fifth standard.
During my sixth standard to the Tenth form, the school where I studied didn’t have a library hall of its own. The only relief was the weekly library period. Here too things were tricky, during the library period a bundle of books were brought in by the teacher assigned for the task, the issue was, we were given the books of their choice, not ours!
The reading is supposed to be inculcated and enriched from a very early ages, may be from upper primary level, sadly, during that timeline I was slogging with the ‘Library period’ and was forced to read books not by my preferences. The faintest memory of what I read from the school library was just a book. What was that book? Hang in there; you will get to know that in the next chapter of this series called ‘The Journey Of A Reader’. Until then I wish, you all discover new writings and authors, remember no one reads a book in a same way, and keep exploring. Happy Reading!