My childhood was all about books – whether it was the stories they contained, the smell of new and used books, or the excitement of buying new books. It almost feels like I grew up reading books like Beauty and the Beast, Naughty Amelia Jane, Geronimo Stilton, Gilmore Girls, The Lord of the Rings, The Palace of Illusions, and Men without Women. In fact, I have not just grown up with books, but have also grown with them. Different books have shaped the different stages of my life. And the foundation of it all was laid back when I was a kid.
Back in my childhood, my parents were quite clear that they wanted me to read more. More books, less cartoons, that was their mantra. Thinking back, I am almost surprised at how okay I was with my limited screen time. That was probably down to the fact that reading did not feel like a forced activity; I actually enjoyed doing it. I guess my parents realized this too, keeping me engaged with one book after another. My parents led the way out for me to meander around the world of books, and I simply complied without any regrets.
My entire school life is full of outrageous stories of my affair with books. From hiding books in the school library to surreptitiously reading story books during physics and math lectures to reading even during our lunch break, I always had a book on me. What I loved the most was how characters formed inside my head, fitting into a face that was only known to me. That is the best thing about books if you ask me.
As a first grader, we were made to choose and read our own books from the library. The librarian insisted that we finish a book during the library hour and tell him something from the book. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, it was not half as fun when he mentioned this drill to us the first time. I found it really stressing. That was, after all, going to be my first reading experience, and I had no idea how to go about it. I was actually confused whether to read or memorize the book.
The nervousness was probably writ large on my face as he walked up to me and told me to simply enjoy reading the book. That was the first-ever advice I got on reading, and what a defining moment that turned out to be! The more I read, the more I enjoyed reading. And the more I enjoyed reading, the longer the characters stayed with me.
I was in second grade when achan (dad) read out Beauty and the Beast to me over dinner. The pictures in the book excited me more than anything else. The innocence of childhood meant that I believed every character in the story. They were real to me.
Chitra Banerjee’s The Palace of Illusions merits a special mention here, for it is one book that is very close to my heart. It made me realize how perspectives can vary from one person to another. It is amazing how a story we have heard before can sound completely different when heard from someone else’s viewpoint. In this case, Draupadi’s narration and thoughts will never leave my heart, not at least in this lifetime. I have never seen a character as strong as her. That said, I did manage to move on from Draupadi as Haruki Murakami caught my fancy.
To sum up, books feed and fuel our imagination. They allow us to get involved with and relate to their characters. The fact that no two people perceive the same character alike bears testimony to how wonderful the world of books is. If you are not an ardent reader, all you need to do is open the door of your mind ever so slightly for books. That is all they need to barge in and change your life forever.
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