It would not be an exaggeration to say that I cut my teeth on books. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always held a book. Even as a child, I recall holding a book between my hands and rustling through the pages. There was something so powerfully tactile about holding a book. One of my most enduring childhood memories is my mother reading to me in bed. Lying down snuggling beside her, my mind wandered into the world of fantasy conjured by the book and gradually I drifted into the oblivion of sleep… Even today as an adult, reading myself to sleep is part of my bed time ritual.
As I grew up, my passion for reading was also nurtured by my maternal grandfather. Seated under the canopy of the mango tree, he would ask me to read aloud from the literature of the East and the West. Translations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari, English classics that spanned poetry, prose and drama, were part of my staple intellectual and imaginative diet.
I first discovered libraries as an eight year-old. My maternal uncle enrolled me in a library nearby that was most aptly named Book Bank. Every Friday evening, armed with 50 paisa (the reading charge for a book was a ridiculously low 25 paisa!), I trudged to the library. I would borrow books by Enid Blyton, the writer who is a universal favorite among children across the world. Within a year, I had read every word Enid Blyton had written and soon graduated to Angela Brazil, Marie Corelli and Erle Stanley Gardner. Very soon, I had read every book in Book Bank, and it was time to graduate to other libraries.
Like a wish fulfillment, Anugraha, another neighborhood library, sprang up. The person who established the library, Sundari Maitreyan, was a qualified librarian and a passionate reader. She had a discerning taste for books, so a trip to the library was also a delightful opportunity to interact with her about books and authors. A.J.Cronin, Taylor Caldwell, James Herriot, Lawrence Durrell, Lloyd C. Douglas, Frank L. Baum, and P.G. Wodehouse were not just names on the spines of book covers; they were family.
Over the years, my mother and I continue to share a love for reading that has strengthened. We bond over books. When I was growing up, it was quite common for us to recommend and swap books. In the early 1970s, there was no Internet and TV, so books were the sole means of access to the world of information and imagination. The neighborhood libraries were complemented by well-equipped public libraries such as those run by the British Council and the United Sates Information Services.
Clichéd as it may sound, books are my best friends. A book encloses within itself a fathomless ocean of wisdom and knowledge. And I, like a scuba diver, plunge into its depths and surface wiser, stronger and happier.