As with all my habits, the foundation for my interest in reading was also laid at a very young age. As is the case with most Indian families, my siblings and I had a fairly strict upbringing. Television and playtime were strictly regulated and studies, inordinately encouraged. All these factors conspired to create an environment where libraries and novels were my only escape from school chores and private tuition. To provide you with a better insight into my background, I grew up in Shillong, a beautiful hill station best described as a cross between a town and a city. What it lacks in size and infrastructure as compared to the bigger cities I have since lived in, it makes up for in its unique and vibrant culture. The city was and still is a breeding ground for literature, music and arts.
The schools we attended as kids were a true reflection of this as they would liberally distribute books as an acknowledgment of every big and small feat. For example, a class topper would invariably get an all-new hardcover edition of Enid Blyton than some meaningless trophy or certificate. While it is a stretch to say that every kid was inspired this way, I, for one, saw it as an ideal escape. As I progressed through the grades, so did my choice of books. Hardy Boys quickly replaced the fairy tales in our shelves. It is a collection I still have and cherish for its sentimental value, if not for the boyish fantasies I harbored as a result of it.
As time passed and my academic life began to encroach on whatever little time I spent away from my textbooks, my television-viewing hours were the first to be martyred. My father had categorically labelled it as a distraction. He even went so far as to scold us for playing outside. Anyone who has been to Shillong or is aware of how passionate we Shillongites are about our soccer, would understand how harsh this was. Fortunately though, by this time, I had access to a great selection of books in my school library. And that is where I would be the morning before my classes, during the breaks, and any time I could sneak in surreptitiously.
While I read and enjoyed plenty of Alistair MacLean and Frederick Forsyth thrillers, my fondest memories revolve around the times I read Tolkien. I actually borrowed Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring a week before my exams and ended up facing the wrath of my dad. For him, my math textbook was the only sacred book I should ever be attached to.
It goes without saying that his will prevailed. I returned the book without ever getting to complete it. I would have to wait until the movies fascinated me with Frodo’s adventures through the Middle-earth. However, that incident did not deter me from borrowing more novels. In fact, I recently missed my metro station while reading All the Light we Cannot See.
My dad has since been more considerate toward my reading habits. Frankly, he has probably given up on his attempts to keep my love for reading in check. In fact, he now proudly displays my entire childhood’s worth of books in the living room. It might have been a small step for dad, but it has been nothing less than a giant leap for me and my siblings.
A NOTE TO OUR READERS
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