A cancelled lunch date led my feet astray to the book treasures on Flora Fountain. This happened on a busy Monday afternoon. I promised myself I wouldn't engage my eyes on books anymore after I ended up spending a whole lot more than I usually do. It feels like an addiction, something I can't let go off. While I am sure books will and should not be recognised as harmful addiction, I am painfully aware of the fact that splurging money on anything every time we see it is unhealthy. Of course, I know the psychology and the hard facts too, but buying books feels like conquering the access way to treasures of an inexpressible happy state of mind.
When I was young, losing myself in the book world was not just for the introduction into the big wide unseen world but also for the love of imagination. I was fascinated with colours and story telling, had a thirst for adventure that seemed strangely missing in my childhood as it was so pronounced in Enid Blyton's books. I could never forget an entire afternoon of being perched on a veranda swing transfixed in the Lilliputian world of Gulliver's Travels. I headily submerged my daydreaming into making myself believe that one day I would see the undersea kingdoms and faraway lands over the great oceans so charmingly described by various authors from C.S.Lewis, R.L.Stevenson, Jules Verne to reading about the Dickensian times of Oliver Twist and Fagin's underworld. I found my emotions in their misery and their happiness. When Oliver was kidnapped and tortured by Fagin but rescued and shown kindness by Nancy, my heart went out to these people. I understood my very first concepts of humanity and compassion through them. I remember reading about Al Biruni and his travels and excitedly sharing those with my friends in school. We hadn't learned of these travellers till that time in our history lessons. All we knew were Marco Polo and Columbus and Vasco Da Gama. I was wide eyed when Al Biruni and Ibn Battuta made their foray into my life. Suddenly my child self wanted to trace their travel routes and their journeys. It was all fascinating and very empowering for a kid who took solace in the imagined world. My summer reads were largely combined of the child friendly translations of Homer's Odyssey and the Jataka Tales. I can't believe now that I read Mythology tales as a kid that I abhor now. My understanding of the epics then was only based on their entertaining aspect of the visually striking stories about kings and queens and wars as most kids are. I remember reading translated regional stories from greats like Satyajit Ray and Pannalal Patel published by the National Book Trust. Growing up, NBT books were my favourite for their colourful and rich illustrations and diverse material that ranged from the river systems in India to fun stories about the Postal System, Railways, and the dawn of Aviation. In fact, I still have a few books with me today that I absolutely refuse to part away with because of their reading worth.
I started reading Biographies of scientists and astronomers and was completely dazzled by their inspiring childhood tales of inventions & discoveries. The nicest thing about reading in childhood was that there were no prejudices and ideologies which moulded a child's mind back then. I have these distinct flashes of reading fables and parables with equal gusto as devouring the science stories. It felt safe to read as long as I could because every other thing was so limited. I remember a story telling competition organised by a leading daily, Gaonkari in Nashik when I was about eight years old. I pestered my Dad for a story when he came home one weekend. He told me about Subhash Chandra Bose's speech where he made the call for "Give me blood and I shall give you Freedom." I fell in an instant awe of the aura of the Indian Freedom Struggle the way my Dad narrated it to me. I made him write it in a story format and delivered it in the competition. It was such a proud feeling to reiterate something like that in front of an audience. I can clearly recall myself standing on the podium with searching eyes for my Dad in the audience seated on benches. I never knew then that stories were not only made up but also recreated from the past. I started reading more about the Freedom Struggle and the leaders. One of my favourite books then was a big fat binder of War narratives in Marathi. I did read Arabian Nights and other Fantasy books too. It's a wonder that these reading excursions were not taxing but a pleasurable vocation for me. My parents let me read all day long in Summer, during lunch-dinner hours, they never disturbed me with nagging calls for outdoor activities or any other diversions. I am quite glad they did not. My concentration levels were unparalleled as I now realise from my memories.
My Dad filled our home with books and music and for that I am eternally grateful to him in giving me a beautiful childhood. He would quote from poetry and literature and often tell me about books he were reading. I loved reveling in the special connection reading gave us. He taught me by example. When I did not understand difficult vocabulary he would guide me to use the dictionary and the Thesaurus. This act of referencing material left a huge mark on my mind. Even today as we sit reading together on Sundays, we discuss and mark quotations, inspiring thoughts and look up unusual vocabulary. He always read out loud so that I heard it and I believe that led to a more indelible imprint of words on me. Reading not only expands our understanding of our being but it also imbibes a culture of refined collation of thoughts. When we understand what we read, we are able to counter our own thoughts leading to better judgement in everything we do in our lives. It prepares us to be better informed and guarded against jingoism and falsities propagated in this increasingly mobile world of information where the truth about right and wrong takes time to emerge.