We had just changed cities, and it was a little too much for a 10 yr old kid. I hated the new people and the new place devoid of greenery. My little mind found it hard to process so many new things at the same time. My parents, still in their 20s, had just transferred to a bigger city in the hope of making it big in life. They had two kids, an address to call home, and had just started holding their finances better. To them, that seemed like a good indication to start a venture of their own. Most parents, or Generation X, came from humble beginnings and dreamed of making it big in life.
I was ten, and the younger sibling was 3. We would be fed, bathed, and then dropped off in our schools. In return, we ate our lunch with either of the parents, and then we were free to do as we pleased. There was much free time and significantly fewer things to do for a ten-year-old in an unfamiliar city. This was when I came across books. I hardly had any friends and had nothing much to do. I was raised with a hunger for new ideas, adventures, and stories.
I was a little under the weather one fine morning, so my mother decided to skip school and go with her. I still remember that misty green morning ride to the center. We had dropped off my sister at her Montessori school and left for our place of business. It was a computer training institute in one of the world’s remotest corners. I loved seeing college-going kids dropping in into our center for their classes. They would be decked up in fancy clothes, smelling nice and stealing glances with the other gender. It was all so dramatic and new for a 10 yr old.
I always had a severe need for attention. As a child, I would make up the silliest of stories to have my parents at my disposal. This one time, I made up the story about how a part of my brain was throbbing during a particular class. I cried so hard that my father had to come to pick me up. I kept shrieking with pain (imaginary) and touching a specific part of my head to make it sound natural.
It went on for a couple of days, and then I realized I had to take it a notch up to make my parents take some action. My father, a total sweetheart, insisted on taking me to the doctor. The two of us dressed in our denim left our home on our green chetak scooter. We stopped for some coconut water on the way too. This seemed like such a breather in a long time to me. I haven’t had my parent’s undivided attention in a long time. Then we went to a homeopathic doctor who was a distant cousin of my mother. The man had a stern yet calming look.
My father told him my symptoms, and he checked my head thoroughly. It’s amusing how well he played along. All this while I kept thinking if I had taken it too far with my storytelling. However, the gentleman somehow understood my plot but still went with my story and gave me some medicines too. Now I had no way but to feel better after taking those white pearly sugary pellets. My childish brain thought that having a medicine cures all the real and made-up problems.
But this incident was a lesson for my parents. They needed to find a distraction, a healthy distraction, for me. And then came books. My mother got me hooked to monthly magazines like Champak & Chandamama. And they opened a whole new world for an introverted child. Books were my ticket to a world that wasn’t accessible to me. Books made me learn about countries, their cultures, and so much more. I didn’t want to stop reading.
My parents were relieved, and I saw a whole new world. My English teacher, a sweet Malayali lady, was surprised at my broad range of vocabulary and praised me in front of the class. This motivated me to read further, and eventually, I started seeing more benefits of the habit I enjoyed so thoroughly. I liked that I always had something to talk about with the adults. I saw how surprised they were with my knowledge of things.
And eventually, life happened, and I got loaded with studies and ambitions of my own. I guess I stopped reading books when I was in my 9th standard. I couldn’t find the time or the patience after my studies and my co-curricular activities. Indian kids of the 90s were raised in a manner to always, always prioritize their studies. And lo and behold, the habit of reading books came to a halt.
And soon, I was pursuing my Engineering and was out in the real world. It was the same story all over again—the feeling of being out of place in an alien world. Old memories came flashing back. But this time, I was alone, devoid of any parental help. And again, books came to my rescue. I visited book stores and spent hours there after college. I was amazed at the vast genres of books in them. It felt like there was so much to know, yet so little time to take it all in. Soon I became a regular and made a couple of like-minded friends in those book stores. We exchanged stories and a lot of laughs. We would compete amongst ourselves to see who completed the most books in a week and so on. Those are still some of the best days of my life.
And as luck would have it, soon, I was about to graduate and had too much coursework to get done with. And again, books took a backseat in my life.
And here I am now, a mother of a toddler and a writer. After graduating, I got a job, did my master’s, worked with an MNC, and then married. My on & off relationship with books continues. I still go back to books when I feel alienated. But now I know that I will find comfort in them. It’s a warm feeling to have a book of your choice that keeps you glued. Although, at times, it does feel difficult to read a book in this era, which has so many distractions.
But eventually, I go back to them. Old habits seldom die.
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