My love affair with books is a gift from my parents. I cannot remember a time when my dad did not read out to me and when his fingers moving over the alphabets in those large pop out fairy tale books became absorbed in my mind, for me to read on my own. As far as I can remember, all my birthdays, well done in school presents, dad/mom out on office tour returning presents have always been books. One could easily say that my heritage was books and authors handed down from one generation to another.
My father has always been bit of a scholar and a reader. At the university he was involved in a student politics and from old records and tales, I know he was a popular leader, who read voraciously – fiction, history and politics (especially Marx and friends! To this date, Dad and I debate out the Socialism vs. Democratic debate over family dinners. I know communism is dead….China does not count as a socialist state; but what can I say…like daughter like father …eccentricity run in the family!) Even when he joined the foreign services, he kept up his reading habits and read everything from the newspaper to The New Yorker to Gorky. Considering all this, his marriage to my mum is kind of surprising. My dad’s family belongs to an old world family, in fact one of the oldest families of the city, that studied hard and believed in doing work for the greater good of mankind. My Mum was the quintessential uptown girl; my great grandfather, i.e. her grandfather was the man who made it big and the family wealth grew from that. There was not much in terms of culture and though everyone aspired for a summa cum laude degree, it was from enabling a status in the society than pursuit of real intellect motive. My mom was more or less true to her family leanings and though she was and is an extremely strong woman, who has fought off many adversities in her life, when she gets into her comfort zone, she would revert to her family traits of indulgence and acquisitive extravagance.
Given such a background, it was kind of surprising, that my mom encouraged my love of reading, writing and studies so much. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we did not have mammoth fights where she resolved never to see me again and I told her that I will ensure that this wish of hers is made possible! You know the whole nine yards. She is a strong opinionated woman who unfortunately has raised a strong opinionated daughter! Woe is hers!) She never read out to me nor did she ever recommend a book I should read or buy. But she always gave me money to buy them and when away on office tours or other outings, she would always take a list of books that I would want her to buy. She encouraged me to apply to some of the best universities and when I actually got through one of them, she was over the moon. Despite all this, reading was not for her and she would rather spend hours on an end in the malls than browsing through books.
My mom retired from work about 6 years ago. I had already moved out of my parent’s place for some 5 years prior to this time. My mom suddenly found a lot of time on her hands; sure she could cook and she did try cooking a lot of experimental stuff for which she never had time before. She also went out a lot and I do mean a lot with her sisters – mall hoping and shopping and movie watching. But still she found time on her hands. Then one day cleaning my old books, she started reading the back cover of a novel – think it was Jeffrey Archer’s Where the Crow Flies. Not much in terms of literature but a great book to read on a flight. She read the back cover and then she ventured slowly and might I say a bit nervously into the first few chapters. It took her I think 20+ days to finish the novel. She found it interesting, though tedious to plod through the whole 400 pages, but she was eager to find out what happened in the end. She then picked up a Sidney Sheldon and a master storyteller that he was, he kept her glued on until she found out how does Tracy Whitney finally escapes (If Tomorrow Comes). She ventured into a few more such reading trysts. I was not aware of her forays into reading until she came to visit me next year for a couple of weeks. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I do not have crockeries and I do not have furniture; hell! I do not even have a television. What I do have is books, books and more books. I found her tentatively and hesitantly reaching out to some of them and being unsure if she could read them. On delving into the matter I found out that she had started reading but was kind of concerned that she might not comprehend some of my more supra intellectual books (I do not think I read supra intellectual stuff. I think most supra intellectual stuff ends in tragedies and I do not like tragedies!) Anyhow, I was so floored with my mum’s efforts that I sought out some easy reads like Wilkie Collins and Somerset Maugham (Yes! I know different genres, but she was getting started and I wanted to introduce her to a wide range).
That was 5 years ago! Today my mum reads as much as I do and practically all the authors that I read, from Tolstoy to Iggulden to Bulgakov to Pratchett; the list can go on….she is not overly fond of Pratchetts or Rowlings but she loves Iggulden and Kaye and Peter Carey. She is romance freak, quite unlike me and makes me buy her Gorgette Hyer and others such by the dozen. Her own collection is rivalling my own and she has recently learnt the art of online shopping, so ordering books is now on her fingertips! She battles with me about the relative merits of one author versus another and has even started suggesting stuff that I should definitely read!
What impresses me the most about all of this is the fact that this woman, who so set in her ways and steeped into her family tendencies had the immense courage and strength to take up something she had never done in her life at the age of 60. Hats off Mum! May your reading be as adventurous and wonderful as your daughter’s!