My childhood home used to be full of books. Majority of my memories are of that musty store and reading the books we had. And it used to take me to the world of wonderland along with Alice. I was in love with books, I would not only read them, live with them, daydream about the characters and their lives, but also, maintain the books, cover them up neatly with brown sheets, label them. I also created an internal library indexing system to maintain the 100s of books we had. Comics, novels, magazines, classics, and my dad’s Physics and my mom’s English literature ones.
My earliest memory of a hero was a guy with superhuman powers wearing a chaddi over a purple suit, none other than Phantom. Every fortnight, the newspaper delivery man would drop an Indrajal comic at our doorstep. All four of us would fight over who would read it first and invariably my brother won. I would get it only after he was through with it, which was 15 minutes later. And my rest of the day would go immersed in the बीहड़ बन, amidst शेरा, and the animals and गुर्रन and of course, Diana. I would walk along with the ghost who walks in an overcoat and hat in the city. I would daydream that I was kidnapped and Phantom rescued me, carried me through the jungle and under the waterfall to his cave and eventually, ( the whole crux of the dream) I replace Diana. My version of the dream, of course. As I pored for hours over every picture in the comic, I would be a part of the magical world and could close my eyes and feel phantom with his strong muscles holding my tightly to his chest as he rode his horse, Shera by his side as he traversed mountains and put me down gently on his bed. A girl has a right to her fantasies, doesn’t she. Don’t judge!
As I grew slightly older, I used to read detective novels about “आशु, निशा and बंटी “. Not sure how many of you read it, but the focus of my daydream became Ashu, and I was Nisha and we chased the bad guys together holding hands. Later it was राजन इक़बाल series. By the time I was in class VI, Fatty had replaced all of them, and the “five find-outers and dog” had become six. Though I always wished for fatty, not to be fatty and as I read the series, and hoped to see some book where he would turn smart and slim. I even started writing my own book, after giving up on Enid Blyton, which lasted for a few chapters before I know I would never complete it. But when it came to fantasies, it always kept going back to phantom, and grew naughtier.
Our school library used to lend us one book a week, which was too less for someone who ate a book for lunch and dinner. After a lot of cajoling the librarian agreed to give me 2 books a week. In return I had to clean the library shelves and put the books back in the right places. Which was awesome because I could spend more time with books. School days were still ok, you had homework and I also needed time to play with the colony ruffian boys every day. But what to do in the two month long summer holidays. I then had to persuade my parents to take me visiting other local bong families with kids my age who were also into books, for the sole purpose of lending and borrowing books. I would also religiously note down what was lent to whom and would ensure they were returned in the next visit with severe admonishment for whoever dared tear the brown cover put so lovingly.
Growing up with the Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and later Poirot and Miss Marple, one of my ardent desires was to become a detective. My day dreams graduated to my solving all crimes in London and becoming Jhilmil Holmes. We were a household where books were treasured and every time anyone asked me what gift I wanted, there was only one response. Every time we visited some relative who had books, I would find my way to their book room and spend my days there, going through all the Tintin and Asterix comics I could lay my hands upon. Who wanted to small talk when you could read! I remember my mom tearing me away from a book to get up and leave as we had to catch a train and I would keep turning the pages up to the door till someone snatched the book away from me.
My mom also had strict categorization of books that I could read and those I could not. Chase was a strict no-no. Class VIII holidays and I started persuading her, I have already seen the covers, how bad can it be, I am a grown up, I can read it. I guess I my persuasion skills were reasonable as she relented and a new world of thrillers opened up for me. Then there was no stopping me, Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Irving Wallace and so many others became my new world.
We used to read Hindi as much as English. Hordes of magazines from चम्पक, पराग, लोटपोट to सरिता, धर्मयुग and कादम्बिनी. I was also reluctantly introduced to something called सत्यकथा which was probably a predecessor to today’s सावधान India. It was also in boycott list, but I was unstoppable. But trust me, my young and naive mind got a shock after reading it, I could not imagine the grotesque reality of crimes so graphically described. When you read a murder mystery described by Christie, and you have been as involved in the detective work along with Poirot, you feel quite proud after you have solved it together, here I just felt sick and afraid and stopped reading this genre.
That was the time when time was unlimited and books were limited and I would probably have read every book at least 20 times, and could not stop till I finished the book, doesn’t matter what hour it was. These days I open a book and after 10 pages, I get distracted and have to put it down as I lose track. Is it me or is it the books? Even till last year, every visit to Jodhpur, and I would re-read anything starting from the St. Claire’s to the Guns of Navarone.