This is a story from many decades back. I grew up in a village (a real one, not a weekend getaway), around the time India got its independence. For a kid growing up in circumstances like mine, books were almost things of luxury. Anything other than textbooks was hard to come by. In fact, the first storybook I ever owned was a prize I won at an elocution contest in class five at school!

My first tryst with storybooks was via my friends and classmates. They used to tell detective stories, which sounded pretty cool. After much pleading and negotiation, they would allow me to borrow their books for a couple of nights. Now, those were days much earlier than the start of village electrification. Evenings and nights were dark, save for a lantern, a lamp or a candle.

For the newer generation who never used a lamp, it uses kerosene as the fuel. The light is strong enough to illuminate a (huge!) area of two feet in radius. As the fuel starts to run out, the fire slows down and the accompanying light dims. In a bid to finish a book in a couple of nights, I would read with my face dangerously close to the lamp and carry on till the flame completely died out. Given the bravado of my younger days, it is a wonder (and a relief) that I did not end up with thick-framed eyeglasses.

Shashanka Ranjan Dhar has evolved his reading habits with the changing times

As I grew older, I graduated from the hair-raising detective books to better classics, which I could borrow from the nearest city library, a couple of hours away from my home. Fast-forward sixty years. Thanks to the technology now, I can get most of my books at a single click of the mouse and pretty much instantly. However, the detective stories that loosely followed the same plot, in which the detective always wore a black overcoat and top hat, and would follow a lone, suspicious figure on a solitary, moonless night through back alleys, will always have a special place in my heart because they opened up a treasure chest of imagination in my mind and made me fall in love with books.


Feel free to check out Shashanka’s blog here to know more about him.

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