Wednesday, July 19, 2006

about Books. and Reading.

Some of my earliest memories are of going with Mummy to the Higginbothams in Bangalore, greedily exploring the shelves and choosing the book I wanted. Then returning to my grandparent's house to curl up in a corner and lose myself in the exploits of Noddy, Big Ears, Mr. Plod, Tess, and of course, Noddy's red-and-yellow car (Praap ! Praap!).

A year – or maybe two later, I remember waking up early one cold, foggy morning in Ambala to find that Daddy had returned from an outstation trip with 'The O'Sullivan Twins' – my first foray into the St. Clare's series. In due course of time, I moved on to other series by Enid Blyton – MaloryTowers, The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, The Five Find Outers etc. (p.s. was 'Brer Rabbit' also an Enid Blyton invention ?) My most constant and cherished friends in my early years were those books; I think I learnt more about good manners, integrity and character from Ms. Theobald, Mrs. Jenks, Mrs. Cornwallis and Ms. Peters than I ever did from any teacher in school.

For reading material more rooted in Indianness, one depended on Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha comics and Target magazine. At that time, there were hardly any children's books by Indian authors. A lot of one's early knowledge of Indian history came from Amar Chitra Katha comics, parts of epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, also tales about the buildingof the Taj Mahal, about Birbal, Vikramaditya, Tipu Sultan, Sher Shah Suri etc. One's idea of feminine beauty was also largely based on Amar Chitra Katha heroines – graceful, curvaceous figure, lovely big eyes, heart shaped face and long, lustrous tresses. Tinkle with Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu was entertainment interspersed with some general knowledge. Target was my all time favourite then as it featured lots of stories about children like me and my friends and I could easily identify with their adventures.

Once all my relatives knew that little Zenobia (yes, I was little once, a long long looong time ago) preferred books to dolls, visits from or to relatives meant more books as presents. There exists a snap of my familywith my uncles in which I can be seen clutching tightly my present – an abridged version of 'War of the Worlds'. Does anyone remember those small pocket versions of classics – I had 'War of the Worlds', 'Time Machine' and ‘Last of the Mohicans’.

My happiest vacations were in my maternal grandparents house where the attic was full of bundles of books, wrapped in newspaper, bound with twine and covered in dust; and my normally stern grandfather had given me carte blanche to unwrap and read anything. It was like participating in a 'lucky dip' each time I picked up and unwrapped a new bundle, one never knew what one would end up with. There were tons of old issues of Readers Digest – Grandpa had been a subscriber from the very beginning. Then there were the stacks of Readers Digest Condensed Versions – big fat tomes solemnly trying to live up to the dignified dark green / brown binding and the majestic gold lettering on the spine. There were old classics – all of Jane Austen's work, Wuthering Heights, Moby Dick etc – these were the ones I read, the rest were too weighty for me to even attempt ! To satisfy one's need for zippy thrillers, there were lots of Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason detective novels, does anyone remember who played Kitty to his Karamchand ? ) and Agatha Christie novels.

Days consisted of sipping fragrant hot tea in the morning and reading; chilled rasna lime / rasna mango in the afternoons and reading some more; while a steady stream of snacks and meals found it's way to my stomach. Until it got hot one sat in a rocking chair under a tree or on the swing in the porch, later one moved to a spot close to the fan. Longish spells of reading were broken only by intervals of playing cards with or chatting to grandparents. Evenings were reserved for visits to the sea-side, back home for dinner and TV watching, and then to bed with a book.

And Oh ! the book inspired adventures. Like finding an old abandoned decrepit temple in a forest near our house in Tambaram and exploring it carefully during the day with friends for hidden treasure or unknown ghosts. Or starting our own Secret Seven Club to find out who the bicycle thief on campus was. Having meetings to analyse clues and discuss the progress of our investigation – we would have done a parliamentary committee proud with our lengthy deliberations. Of course all meetings included juice and snacks thoughtfully provided by a club member's mother. Apart from going through enough snacks to feed an army and keeping us occupied throughout the holidays, our club didn't achieve much, though maybe it honed our 'analytical ability and reasoning skills'. ;-)

Books got me into trouble quite often too. Once, when I was about ten years old, some neighbours saw me reading a book while walking by the side of the main road. They decided to tell my father the next time they met him, which unfortunately was at a party. I got a solid firing from my father in front of 25-30 people, to add to my misery he also threatened to cancel my library card. Another time I left an Archies comic that belonged to my grandfather's friend on top of the flush tank in the loo, and due to some thoughtless person using the shower to bathe, it got wet. That was another time I came close to having my borrowing privileges curtailed, I also got a lecture on carelessness vs. responsibility and treating books properly that I will never forget.

By,
Zenobia D. Driver

20 comments:

Rohini said...

Yes Brer Rabbit was an Enid Blyton creation. And Perry Mason's sidekick was Della Street. I love Google!

Rohini said...

You've been tagged :)

Archana said...

Nice :-) - it reminded me so much of my own childhood - had touched upon this very same topic a few months earlier on my blog too !

Anonymous said...

Della Street I belive was his secretary.....

Anonymous said...

I suppose u are the same Zenobia Driver who is from IIMB -2000..

Aqua said...

awesome post! it was like reading fragments of my own childhood. i was the quintessential bookwork...i was a proud member of the local oxford library as a kid. the owner would buy me a packet of popcorn everytime i turned up to issue a new book (i would make 2-3 daily trips there).
our library also had bound volumes of amar chitra kathas, twinkes etc. was a treat
my favourite book as child was 'little women'. i think i learnt about most of life's lessons from that book (i still have the book with me...torn and frayed with time) :)

Entropy said...

Hi Archana,
what's the title of the similar post on your blog ? am dying to read it now.
Zenobia.

Entropy said...

Ro,
Thanks for the google search. I know I can do it, but it is much more exciting to get the answers from other people. maybe i am a psycho, maybe i am inefficient, maybe i am lazy, maybe i am .... a manager ! ;-)
Zenobia.

Entropy said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for the info on Della Street.
And yes, you identified me correctly.
Zenobia.

Entropy said...

Hi Aqua,
Great to see your comment. Welcome to entropymuse. How did I miss 'little women' in my post ? I did enjoy the whole series so much. Jo March was my favourite.

Loved your anecdote about free popcorn. :-)

Zenobia.

Aqua said...

yeah jo was my fav too...and i was heartbroken when laurie married amy in 'good wives'. i always wanted jo & laurie to hook up (this explains why 'when harry met sally' is one of my fav movies :)).

Entropy said...

i was also pained when laurie married amy, but then i really liked dr. baer when the character was introduced and suddenly laurie marrying amy seemed okay.

Archana said...

Zen,
The link is here. Ah, Little Women is one of favoritest books of all time! I too was heartbroken for quite sometime about Laurie marrying Amy instead of Jo. But when I read the book again in recent times, that seemed like a very logical choice. Jo and Laurie share something special - and their not marrying each other does not make that bond any less strong!

Perspective Inc. said...

Such a well written post..Got me all nostalgic!
Books played a very imp role in my childhood and have some amazing memories..

Entropy said...

Hi Archu,
Thanks for the link.

Hi Perspective,
Really thrilled after reading the first part of your comment. Thanks !

Zenobia.

Anonymous said...

Zenobia? Tambaram? Air Force? KV 1 (at least until Class 9 or 10)? Brother Cyrus?

Yes to all?

Entropy said...

Hi Anonymous,
Haan bhai haan. yes to all.
ab aap apna parichay dein. Who is this ?
Zenobia

Anonymous said...

The name is Hari. Ring a bell? Lived down the road from you. P-112/4!

Entropy said...

Hi Hari.
How do you expect the house number to be any help ??!!! My memory was never that good, and now in my old age, it is getting more and more rusty.
Did you have a younger brother too ? I remember one Hari who had a younger brother in AFS Tambaram. oh ! and this hari -with-a-younger-brother also had parents who were building a house at that time. i remember being totally overawed by the concept of OWNING YOUR OWN HOUSE. are you that Hari ?
Zenobia.

Anonymous said...

Haan bhai haan - I am that Hari.
Nice to meet you again Zenobia.

Brother is Vasu. Parents were indeed building a house which they finished just before we left AF Tam in 89'.

I work in Switzerland now.

Do you use skype / google talk or yahoo messenger? If yes, mail me your id at

rhimd2005@yahoo.com

and we'll catch up over email or a chat. Sound good?

Cheerz
Hari