Books, Reading and written words have played a vital part in my life. I have often wondered, if reading and books were not part of my life, I would have been a very different person. Books have shaped me into the person that I am today. Words I believe , are very powerful and especially written words have had a great impact on me.
Books ,reading and storytelling was an integral part of childhood. As far I can remember, books and stories, surrounded me in my early part of life, and I carried the habit along with me in to my adult life. When I recall my earliest memories of my family, it is of us immersed in stories and books, sharing the joy of written words, my father sitting crossed leg on the bed with Complete works of Shakespeare in his lap and a cup of coffee in his hand, reciting verses to us of the Bard, my mother reading from her weekly magazines on lazy afternoons and narrating to us how she was introduced to the stories of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay as a young girl , and my brother reading out to me from comic books. Stories, reading and storytelling were an everyday part of our life. Reading was not a chore or a task, but it was a way of life at our home. My father would tell us the stories of Merchant of Venice, Around the world in 80 days, Pickwick papers and Nicholas Nickelby. My mother would tell us about Parineeta, the story of a young girl in Calcutta, set during Bengal Renaissance or how she thought Paro from the book Devdas was a brave woman.
We used to have the weekly comics delivered home through the news paper vendors. The books would be rolled in to the daily newspaper , a rubber band bound around and it would be tossed in to our doorstep. The newspaper would land with a thud on the door step, louder the thud, meant there were comics inside the newspaper. I remember opening the newspaper like a precious little Magic scroll , and out would pop the little bundle of joy neatly tucked into the news paper. It was like this wondrous object, which would take me to wonderful worlds, full of enchanted forests, talking animals, fairies, friendly ghosts.
A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.- Neil Gaiman
Champak, Indrajaal Comics with stories of Phantom-the ghost, Mandrake- the magician, Chandamama, Madhumuskan, Amar Chitrakatha these were part of my daily life as a child. My first book which I read on my own was a weekly magazine for children called Champak. It had a blue cover, with a Mama duck and her ducklings on the cover. It had selection of short stories, with recurring characters. My favorite was Cheeku the rabbit, who lived in Champakvan, and he was clever and his friends were Meeku the mouse and Jumbo the Elephant. Champakvan was ruled by the king Shersingh , The Lion. I was probably six or seven years old when I read those stories, but I can still remember the Champakvan forest vividly, as I have read from the pages now. It was an enchanted forest with Chaat ( indian snacks) shop, ice cream vendors, beautiful burrows and paths . And my brother s favorite was Madhumuskan, it had characters like Daddy ji and Jojo. Daddy ji is a humorous character, bumbling around in his house and life with his son Jojo. I remember Madhumuskan , because it introduced me to the world of Archie’s. In India in late seventies and early eighties, Mahumusakan had the rights to publish Archie’s comic strips and stories and it was the best way to get in to Riverdale and Pop Tate’s. Chandamama was full of stories of magical tales of India and its Rajahs , paris( fairies) , betal (ghosts) and all the magical splendor. These are some of the names I grew up with. I am not sure how many of these books are even in publication now a days. But these books were an important part of my childhood and of many more who grew up in India before the advent of satellite television, computer games and the rest of the 20th and 21st century gadgets.
Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful voice. Like a short, torrid love affair.”
― Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop
I would read one book and then it would lead me to another book. My favourite part of the school was the Library. I had picked up ‘Far from the madding crowd’ from the school library and which made me search for more books on English countryside. Instead I found Alexander Dumas in the library, I was lost in the world of Count of Monte Cristo. It was like playing an endless game of connecting the dots. I found a dusty yellowing Agatha Christie at one of my uncles home and I became a major fan of the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. And during one of the summer vacations I found a copy My family and other animals by Gerrald Durrell in my uncles shelf standing solo along with other inconsequential objects of daily life . I was convinced after reading the book that I had the most boring life and education, I would have loved to be taught like Gerry in Greece, living in Red Villas , Pink villas and singing folk songs on the road with old ladies. I may have mentioned it to my mother in my earnestness, that if I had studied in an informal way in my younger days I could have done better. Obviously my mother was not very pleased and she wanted to know who was putting such ideas in to my head!!!!! She believed if I spent less time my nose buried in stories and books, more on my university books and spent more time with people , it would do me a whole lot good.
That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” -Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
I did not discover the joy of reading and sharing it enthusiastically with someone until I met my husband and my two friends, with whom I have endless chats and debates on books and reading and the characters of the book, the plotline etc. Just before the onset of lock down, I dragged my husband to watch the latest outing of Emma. Truth be told , I was going to watch it with a friend, but my husband out of his own wish, tagged along with us. I remember having a character debate on Emma Woodehouse, I thought Emma to be vain and shallow, but my husband vehemently disagreed, saying he thought Emma was doing what she thought was in best interest of her friend, may be she was childish in her pursuit but definitely not shallow. How wonderful it is to be able to share the love of books and reading with someone. One of the earliest conversations that I remember having with my husband, years ago when we had just met,is about books. It started off with reference study books but went on to Alistair Maclean, P G Woodehouse, Agatha Christie, John Grisham and our mutual love for reading and books.’I dont read books and stories because they are entertaining, or just to kill time, books are much more than that’ said my husband , my then friend. And I thought to myself, Hmm there’s someone else who shares my enthusiasm of books. Since then we have wandered around in many bookstores, and libraries of Chennai and many other cities.
Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see the paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-colored books. It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen.
With wonder, she smiled.– Markus Zusak The Book Thief
I had always thought reading as a private pursuit, something that I love, but is not for discussion with others, it between me and the books, something personal. Books are wonderful companions, they allow you to have a conversation with yourself, find yourself and be yourself, take you to places and show you wonderful sights,teach you so many things, they are like a wonderful blanket of warmth on a cold winter night, or like that dark summer night sky filled with millions of little twinkling stars, shining and spreading light and joy around you.
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.– From History Boys
One monsoon day in early 2000, my friend and I had been wandering around a bookstore, after our work. Our favorite haunts were bookstores, we would go to length and breadth of Mumbai looking for bookstores. That particular day after spending hours of browsing through the shelves, both of us armed with a bunch of new books, stepped outside the bookstore in to the rain. We walked in to a small tea shop nearby famous for its bhajais. We sat there sipping our hot tea and munching the hot bhajiyas, watching in silence the waves crash wildly on to the rocks. On our way back home, standing in the crowded Mumbai suburban train, we started talking about the book Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and short story ‘The Man from Glasgow’ by Somerset Maugham, how mystery itself was an important character in both the stories . And when I was about to get down at my stop when my friend said ,” How sad it would be to read and not be able to share the joy of what you have read” I had not realized until my wise friend pointed out a simple fact, all the joy of reading is not complete unless you can share it enthusiastically with someone and your enthusiasm is reciprocated. I think it was profound and where I had thought of reading a book as a singular act, she made me realize that the joy is much more when you share it with another book enthusiast. A joy shared is joy multiplied
“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”-― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
Why do I remember today a conversation I had two decades ago? Perhaps after a long hiatus I started reading a book, the storytelling was so compelling that not only did it manage to hold my attention, but I was completely lost in the world of fantasy. Story telling is an art, which is a widely known fact. There are different ways to tell a compelling story- realistic and raw, poetic and lyrical, simple and profound. What you find compelling is the style that speaks to you most, only you get to decide for yourself. I have always found that for me it is of paramount importance how the story is being narrated, more than the story itself. How the story is conveyed, the language used, the words from the pages should be able to lift and transport me to the world the book has created, I should be able to see, hear, feel and be the story. This book in just a few pages created such a wonderful vision of Russia , in middle of winter, a family huddled around the oven , listening to stories.
“The Winter half of the house boasted huge ovens and small,high windows. A perpetual smoke trickled from its chimneys, and at the first hard freze, Pyotr fitted its window-frames with slabs of ice, to block the cold but let in the light. Now firelight from his wife’s room threw a flickering bar of gold on to the snow” –The Bear and the nightingale
When I read these words, I was transported immediately to a snow covered landscape and I was standing next to Pyotr, looking at the flickering bar of gold on snow. And more importantly, I wanted to share the few captivating lines with my husband, and sent the lines to my friend to see if they can be transported in to this beautiful land of words. I found the narration of the book to be so mellifluous and beautiful. I like historical fantasies and magical stories, it was perfect for me to read, after a stressful day at work, away from the worries of this world engulfed in a pandemic ,be transported to Old Rus, with Vasya and Morzoko, the blue eyed frost Demon, who is both cruel and kind.
The story is truly finished — and meaning is made — not when the author adds the last period, but when the reader enters.-Celeste Ng