By Asha Balakrishnan
World Book Day 2020: My mother’s library book lying above the newspaper pile is due for exchange. In fact, it has been due for the past three weeks. It has been close to three weeks since dear appa passed away peacefully. The ever active selfless, generous, helpful, people’s person, charmer (the adjectives awarded to appa by his relatives, friends & neighbours), Appa, would go all around the town to buy groceries, pay bills, not only for his family but also for his neighbours.
He would zip off on his Scooty Zest to the library 2 kms away to exchange the book, & come back home at noon with bags of groceries. He would lay the grocery bag on the dining table, while Amma would be ready with a hot cup of tea for him.
While it was Amma, a voracious reader who inspired me to read, it was dear Appa who introduced and encouraged me to the world of books.
World Book Day 2020: First Amar Chitra Katha book on 'Lord Ganesha'
I still remember the day I picked up my first comic book at the IBH exhibition in glass house at Lalbagh in Bangalore. I was around 6 years old at that time. My parents and I walked to Lalbagh which was a few metres from home. Appa got me my first Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) – 'Lord Ganesha' and it cost just Rs. 2 back then.
From then on, whenever I passed by the book store near my house or the Higginbothams store at Railway stations while travelling, I would buy them and add it to my personal collection of ACKs. Even the gift money that I would get from family elders would be spent on buying books. I believe ACKs are windows to our culture and our Indian kids must be brought up on this pictorial and word diet.
My fond love for ACK was followed by Champak, Gokulam and Tinkle. One of my favourite places to read the book was under the shade of the gooseberry tree in my house in Bangalore. It was in the corner of the compound and under that was a granite stone. I had formed my own book club in which I was the lone and founding member. I would take a fallen gooseberry and write 'TINKLE BOOK CLUB' (TBC), the acidic berry would leave its mark on the textured compound wall. I would then sit under the tree, open my book, stamp them as TBC with ink and continue with my reading. Besides the shade of gooseberry tree, I would sometimes also sit on the doorstep, by the bedroom window, under the dim lights of the kitchen dining table or under the covers of my blanket with a torch light.
World Book Day 2020: Growing up with Enid Blyton books
After comics, Enid Blytons and classics followed. My mind wanders to those times when Appa took me on his Enfield bullet or Crusader bike to bookstores to buy new books or from road side book sellers. Oh, the joy of discovering Pickwick papers, Pride & Prejudice, Little Women! I recall reading passages aloud, relishing the sentence construction, new words, experiencing and traveling to new worlds that I had never seen.
Further to encourage my reading habit, Appa enrolled me in the City Central Library in Bangalore. I vividly remember the hard bound, well- worn books neatly stacked on the metal shelves creating an enchanting space that draws you. I would pick the book and wait excitedly to get to the end of the book to unravel the journey of the protagonist or mysterious plots.
World Book Day 2020: Understanding fancy words and their meanings
All these books I read, introduced me to fancy words like blitzkrieg, stentorian, fusillade, treacle tart, marmalade, promenade. I would attempt to decipher their meaning in that context and very often I would make up those meanings myself. Many times, I have also underlined those complex words to hunt for their meaning in the dictionary later on, which helped me expand my word bank. And yes, these additions to my vocabulary made me feel like a slightly smart child in school.
I realise a lot of my growing up years have featured books and it is all because of my parents. I have always been a voracious reader, devouring books.
Studying away from my home state, my mother language was not part of the school curriculum. Appa would buy me the Tamil newspaper ‘Dina Thanthi’ so that I could learn the language. So grateful for that, today I can speak, read & write Tamil fluently. My knowledge of current affairs and other general affairs were periodically updated, a lot of which I owe to my Appa who got me newspapers and general knowledge books regularly.
Of late, my genre has narrowed. What absorbs me these days are the historical or surreal spiritual books. These books are not light racy reads. There are times when I pause, read, re-read to understand. They make me rethink my existence, help me to stay grounded & contemplate.
Reading isn't like before now, my reading is shifted to the screens. Yes, Kindle has replaced physical books. Right now, 'The Ivory Throne' by Manu Nair is flickering on my screen, while the book 'Thus spake the Divine’ is beside me.
On this World book day, I can’t thank my Appa and Amma who encouraged me to fall in love with strong words.
(Asha Balakrishnan is a storyteller by passion, with varied interests including reading, yoga, organic gardening, blogging, traveling, and art and craft. Views expressed are personal.)