I have been away on holiday and hence the delay on my weekly posts. When asked, what my favourite pastime is ? ” Reading” I will promptly respond.
On holiday or not, good day or bad, the one routine that never changes in my life, tucked into bed at night, my head propped up on pillows, lost to the world of fiction.
My earliest memories of my mother reading to my sister and me were stories by Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish Author , best known for his children’s stories – The Emperor’s new clothes – it’s now my son’s favourite story. The Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and The Pea and sad little tale of The Little Match Girl, all timeless , we use to borrow these illustrated classic story books from the Digboi Club library.
Shortly before his death, Anderson had consulted a composer about the music for his funeral, saying: “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.”
The Noddy series were the first Enid Blyton’s I read along with my mother and much later when I heard that this series was banned in certain places for being racist, I was quite taken aback and sad that some children were to grow up never knowing Toyland as a happy wonderful place.
The first novel that I read all on my own was Secret Island by Enid Blyton. I must have been around 8 – 9 years old. It was her earliest novel series, preceding all The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Mallory Towers – school series, The Five Find-Outers and The Adventure series. Blyton’s first book, Child Whispers, a 24-page collection of poems, was published in 1922. I throughly enjoyed the Famous Five series and till this day haven’t eaten a watercress sandwich!
Since then I have been in many adventures, traveled to various corners of the world, meet interesting people, fallen in love numerous times, developed strong tastes and dislikes all from the comfort of my favoured reading position of the moment. In my childhood it was to half sit/half lie down with my legs dangling from the arms of the big cane planter chairs placed on the veranda. Many a blissful afternoons have been spent this way.
In a letter to the psychologist Peter McKellar, Blyton describes her writing technique:
I shut my eyes for a few minutes, with my portable typewriter on my knee – I make my mind a blank and wait – and then, as clearly as I would see real children, my characters stand before me in my mind’s eye … The first sentence comes straight into my mind, I don’t have to think of it – I don’t have to think of anything.
I preferred The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss over Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. I remember not liking Man Friday. The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were my introduction into American literature.
Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki Tikki – Tavi and Kim were the first books I read that were set in India. Books by Indian authors I only encountered much later, starting with – ‘My experiments with the truth’ by M.K.Gandhi, a part of school syllabus. As was Charles Dicken’s – Great Expectations.
Growing up in an anglicized environment I learnt most of my Indian history, through Amar Chitra Katha, India’s largest comic series was created by Anant Pai, better known to many generations of Indian kids as Uncle Pai. How I wish they had replaced all the boring history text books in school with these comics, founded in 1967, the imprint has more than 400 titles that retell stories from the great Indian epics, mythology, history, folklore, and fables.
Tinkle, was a monthly magazine that Uncle Pai had started that featured comics, stories, puzzles, quizzes, contests and other features targeted at school children. They use to run a contest for interesting original stories and once my sister, Reema won the princely sum of Rupees one hundred, there was much excitement in our home. We use to spend all our pocket money on these along with Phantom comics and sweet Phantom sweet cigarettes.
Anant Pai in an interview mentioned – The idea behind starting a comicbook series devoted to Indian culture and history came from a quiz contest aired on Doordarshan in February 1967, in which participants could easily answer questions pertaining to Greek mythology, but were unable to reply to the question “In the Ramayana, who was Rama’s mother?
A lot of my friends have now moved on to the Kindle, the e-book reader and I can understand their argument about it being easier to carry around, uncluttered bedside tables and saving time from scouting around for a book. But I still love reading the old fashioned way, scouting bookstores, especially secondhand shops and almost every second week I drop in on my library, Eloor Libraries located in Blue Cross Chambers, Off Infantry road, Bangalore to borrow books. Now I have even starting taking my kids there once in a way to browse and select a book of their choice.
image courtesy – www. google.in