Book (ed)

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.

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In tatters now, once a part of my library

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.

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Let me fly

Just reminiscing, thinking. Yes I do this seemingly impossible task as well, specially when I am free and alone. You would probably not believe it if you have read my writing, you must think, this female just vomits words, doesn’t waste a precious moment doing the incredible task of using her grey cells. I have been told to ensure sufficient exercise of my brain since my knees started aching. So, I was thinking that once upon a time, like every other young person, I wanted to literally fly. अरमानों के तो पँख होते है। who doesn’t? The good part of my life was, my parents let me. They did not ask me to fold my wings and put them in the almirah and lock it. Yes, there were struggles but minor ones as compared to what some others go through.

I believe our Indian minds are conditioned to think that the sole aim of life is get married, reproduce immediately after and then get your children married and then your grandchildren. ( like one of those TV soaps whose sole purpose is to show parties and functions one after the other) Follow the rules set by the elders in the family, study, get good marks, become a graduate and post graduate, to better the marriage prospects, but NOT to work. Learn to sing and dance to the latest Bollywood songs, only to show the art in family sangeets. Learn to cook, sew, embroider, so that the creations can be showed off to prospective grooms. Learn to speak but not have your own voice, then what, then get married and make rotis for your newly acquired family. This is not really a feminine-centric blog, it applies to both genders. Are boys treated differently? They are brainwashed into submission by – Be good, get good marks, get into the engineering college, then get a good job with a salary your parents can show off. Never drink, party or go out with girls unless u are engaged to her and have been granted permission. Don’t have any life outside family. Get engaged and then married to a girl with impeccable credentials chosen by your parents and start producing your progeny. And if you dare to be different , you will be crushed mercilessly by the emotional अत्याचार by your own family.

Recently a colleague told me that she was very worried about getting her son married as he was already 28. She said I have asked him if he has someone in mind but he doesn’t, and he wants her to choose. Tell me one good reason why a person who has been an adult for 10 years straight wants his parents to take the life’s most important decision for him or her. My maid, her daughter being of “marriageable age” is still open to letting her work, but is facing family pressure “he is a good boy, you will not find a good match for later, why does she need to work”. I have been trying to brainwash her. Let her work. Let her stand on her feet and gain some self confidence, she is just 17, wait for a few years, it will help your family, let her be ready to face the battles of life. She gets convinced to some extent and then she goes home and comes back in the morning again full of apprehensions.

Trust me, I am not saying arranged marriage is bad, or that our parents don’t want the best for us. I am talking about a different problem. I think we don’t let our children grow up and become independent in thought, take their life decisions, we don’t want them to grow up. We don’t prepare them for the challenges of the world. And if by some miracle, they are able to voice their thoughts and their wishes, we don’t listen, we don’t want to listen, because our mind conditioning says that children are the ones who should listen. We don’t discuss things, we announce decisions. Children do not have a say, and cannot question. If they do, ” अब तू इतना बड़ा हो गया कि मुझसे सवाल करेगा?” And here I am talking not of children, but adults masquerading as children. Supposedly grown ups 20 years, 30 years, 40 years old who are being treated thus.

Starting from what they will wear, to who they should befriend, and what they should study and when, we are used to taking decisions for our children. Is it because we were treated thus and we want to carry the tradition along? Because we could not take those decisions for ourselves, we take it out on our unsuspecting children and this will continue ad infinitum. Some generation has to change and give in. Some generation needs to let their children take their own decisions, make their own mistakes, grow up and not just literally and support them as they stumble, pick themselves up and start anew. Hopefully it will be our generation.

What if the kid wants to pursue art and painting instead of engineering. I had a team member who dared to go against his entire extended family to pursue a career in fine arts and animation and wanted a job to prove to his parents his decision was right. What if the kid doesn’t want to get married? Big deal. Why does it become “जवान लड़की छाती पर पत्थर की तरह होती है।”. Maybe he or she will find love at 40. So long as he is independent, happy and able to take care of himself or herself, why should it matter? What if the person wants to get married to a person of his own choice, maybe of the same gender, maybe a widow(er), divorcee, a much younger/ older person/ a different caste, or wants to lead a life of chastity. In the Indian context, these are taboo. We clap when we hear of such news items, but have a major problem when something like this happens in our family.

What is needed to to help our children grow independent in thought, be consulted in important decisions, help their thought process mature, and enable them take their life decisions. Important aspect is to let them do it, instead of doing it for them. Support them, guide them, help them understand the difference between right and wrong. They will make mistakes, and will learn from it. These fb quotes that we see every day, don’t just forward them blindly, apply them to your life.

Some of us are not born to be engineers and doctors, some of us will fail in class, some will try drugs. Not everything is right but then are we the epitome of what is right? Do we give support when it is needed most? A lot of engineers I know, force their children into the same discipline just because that is all they know. Give your children the confidence to speak in front of you and put their opinion, not just nod to whatever you say. Respect their opinion and have a healthy discussion before a decision is taken with mutual consent.

Wives whose husbands are categorized as mama’s boys, trust me, their kids turn out to be the same. वदला ! You don’t need anyone to yes,mama, as you say, mama, you. Again, I am not saying, taking your parents opinion is bad, but love can be smothering. ( बोलना पड़ता है, various generations are going to read this and I have to try to be politically correct while I say what I think is right), and then taking your children’s opinion can’t be wrong either. Love should not be restraining and restrictive. Your kid will respect you more if you show respect to him. Let them be, let them grow, let them fly, don’t clip their wings before they take off.