Books have been part of my life ever since I remember. The fact that the readers need to know here is that growing up in 80s and 90s, there were no multiple screens. The satellite TV made its way into my life, when I was already 14. I started watching films frequently in cinema halls when I had exhausted half my teens. Books were the only escape or I must say a delightful respite from those hot afternoons in really lazy small towns, Yes, there were shady video game parlors and gully cricket too. But I never had enough pocket money to go play video games regularly though I was in love with Mario and Contra. A console at home, was a desire never fulfilled by my parents. Gully cricket kept me busy at weekends. But there was a limit to the number of tennis balls you can lose in a week.
But the fact that I took to books like fish to water, was still strange. In my family, on my father's side no one had completed his / her studies. No one read books at my home. Before me no one bought books. Even all my cousins, never read much apart from school books. My mother was a graduate and I think she introduced me to books. Though I am not sure how I started reading, I clearly remember four things that deepened my love for reading.
1. Childhood stories and optical illusions:
I remember my parents bought me a children stories book which had these pictures (cutouts - don't know the technical name of such books) coming out of it. I was fascinated. I was hooked. I liked the characters in these books more than the kids I knew.
Also every year, at school annual function, I used to win prizes. And every time these prizes were books. Fictional tales of enterprising kids, princes, princesses, animals, trees etc. " As they were books I earned, I had to read them :-)
I faintly remember a book called "The Railway Children"which I had read in this period. I realized that there are places outside India, outside Punjab, outside Ludhiana, which looked beautiful. I traveled to new places with these books.
2. The Library Card:
When I was in fifth grade, my school gave me a pink library card. That was my first exposure to library. And to Enid Blyton. The Famous Five and Secret Seven took me to new adventures daily. I was good with text books too, but these books provided fodder to my imagination.
3. The Comics Exchange Shop:
In summer vacations, I used to go to my maternal grandmother's home, which was in the same town as my paternal home. (May be that is why Ludhiana is the only place I call home as mentioned in my previous post A: Away). There I discovered a small shop that used to give comics on rent for Re. 1 a day. You can take one comic at a time and read as many in a day. I used to finish a comic in 30 minutes and run to the shop and get another one. I read as many as 10 comics in a day at times. Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu were my favorite characters. I never liked non Indian comics like Marvel / DC superheroes. I don't know why, because as an adult I like these superhero films a lot.
There was this book fair held in our school every year. I remember buying my first Oxford Dictionary (Not sure if it was first, but I definitely remember buying one there) in one of these fairs. The dictionary gave me wings. It was like a sword and and a shield at the same time, making you the best armored guy in the battle of books.
So as I grew up, I read lot of childhood fiction apart from my academic books. But then few things happened. Preparation for Board Exams (another topic from B, given its importance in Indian education system) and engineering entrance exams took its toll. I started reading lot of those books which were to be read not for love of reading. Even the annual prizes I won at school, were now Physics and Chemistry books. The adulthood was not going to be easy. Off and on I read other stuff, but still the childhood reading habit was gone.
In this period I read few books / novels in Punjabi literature. I remember Nanak Shah's Chitta Lahu (White Blood). I still decide every year that I will read more about Sikh History (In school, I enjoyed reading tales from Sikh History in Divinity class), our holy book Guru Granth Sahib and its meaning, and more of Punjabi literature. But I never do so. I always go back to the English books.
As I did my engineering, I became friends with people who are my best buddies today. The focus of life shifted. Hormones raged. Alcohol flowed. Then first job happened. This was a period when I read very little. Though life educated me a lot. There are lot of stories from this phase which can't even be mentioned on this blog without heavy censoring.
I remember reading very few non academic books during this period, till I completed my MBA and married. But the few which I really liked in this period were, The God of Small Things, Fasting Feasting, Straight From the Gut By Jack Welch, The Company of Women and Maverick. There were others that I don't remember. But the point is by now I had started reading adult fiction and autobiographies. Some one also suggested "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey". Well I could never go beyond 3rd habit. This is the one and only book I have in self - help genre and haven't completed it in 15 years since then. This book is solely responsible that I loathe self - help genre altogether.
As I completed my MBA and got married, life steadied in few ways. Academic books were finally out of way. Not completely, but still. I started reading regularly again. I discovered the most read English author in India and also the most hated one by those who want to be seen as intellectuals. But the fact is that Chetan Bhagat may not have best literary skills at his disposal, he is still a master story teller. I don't read books for my love of proper English. I read books for my love of a good story. One of my friends became an author (Nishant Kaushik). I read all books he comes out with. I read a lot more now than ever before. I am part of a book reading club and we take reading targets. In 2016 I read 13 books. My most favorite were:
"Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson" - This is one of the best and most honest biographies I have ever read.
"And the mountains echoed by Khaled Hosseini" - Here I must mention that Khaled Hosseini is my most favorite author. He transports you to a world which you have never experienced, but ironically it is rooted in reality. His books always make me cry and the ghosts of his books don't leave me for weeks.
Well taking targets kind of take away from innocence of reading. But in my busy schedule, there is no other way I will be pushed to read. In 2017 I am behind my target of 20 books. Just completed four so far. Also to avoid polluting my reading experience and memories of childhood any further, I have resisted buying a Kindle so far. I know economically it makes more sense and it saves lot of precious space at home. But reading paper books is the only way to retain innocence. There are lot of other screens to distract anyways.
I also started writing book reviews for the book club (will share some of them, some other time, in some other post may be) and made short stories on Word of the Day shared on this club's WhatsApp group. Some of those short stories which I reproduced on this very blog can be read here and here and here. I also used to write film reviews few years back, but as it happens always, priorities in life keep changing. Films / Movies is a subject to be discussed some other time.
But the point is books and movies may not always get equal importance as other things in my life. But they have played an influential role throughout and they will have a constant presence in my life.
P.S. This post covers my journey with books in line with the theme I have taken for the challenge. I would love to write another post on how these books shaped my world view.