I wish I were a superhero!
You know the ones kids like me worship (I am the quintessential Peter Pan, never growing up!). I wish I had the combined powers of my childhood favourites Phantom, Mandrake and Flash Gordon! Then I would not have to worry about the small niggles of life, and concentrate solely on saving the world! 😀
As a kid, I first encountered The Phantom or “The Ghost Who Walks” in the comic strips published in The Telegraph (not the London newspaper; this one is published from Calcutta). It was….hero worship at first sight! Boy, can you imagine what it meant to a 6-year-old to meet someone who had 2 guns and who could fire them simultaneously and never miss!
The comic strips published in The Telegraph were probably my first encounter with leisure reading. As is my nature, initially I wanted the easy way out, and would ask my mom to read it out for me… till the day, she decided enough was enough and said, “Either you read it on your own, or you don’t.” After a few days of tantrums, the rebellion petered out and I was on my own, reading all the adventures of the superheroes from this world and beyond! I was well and truly hooked.
Next up were the wonderful creations of Enid Blyton, The Famous Five. I still remember the first one I read: Five Run Away Together, in the fifth standard. I too dreamt of running away to my version of Kirrin Island and eating all those wonderful sounding food items which as an Indian kid growing up in the pre-satellite TV age, I had never heard of, leave alone eat. Jam Tart, Treacle Tart, Sardine Sandwich, Scones, Bacon, Sausages, Ginger Beer and what not!
As I grew up and reached mid-teens, I also discovered Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The 3 Investigators. I lapped it all up. This continued till the 8th standard. Then my father gifted me The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes. The first one I read was The Hound of the Baskervilles. I still remember that after reading it, for days I would be so scared to go to any dark place, even to the toilet! This was during my school’s summer vacation, and I would literally shiver in the afternoon sweltering heat, while reading the story. Now that I look back in time, I realise that my entire school years, I would only read mystery and adventure stories. No fairy tales for me! 🙂
The next phase shift happened after my 10th standard. A book named “Of Human Bondage” written by a certain Somerset Maugham came in my possession and changed my reading habit completely. I consider it Maugham’s not just longest but also the most boring. Of course it’s a masterpiece, but I really struggled to finish it, especially the part where he stays in Paris. After that there was no looking back. I would have finished reading each of his short stories, and most of his novels, in the next 3-4 years. I still consider him my favourite. It is rumoured that Maugham was once considered for the Nobel Prize, but did not win it, as he was considered too popular! Imagine that!
Around that time, I also saw the BBC production of Middlemarch on TV. I liked it and read up a few books written by George Eliot, viz. Adam Bede, Felix Holt, the Radical and of course Middlemarch. For the uninitiated, George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans, but she wrote under a male name, so that her work would be taken seriously!
The one good fortune I have had my entire life, is that different people have recommended various books, and I was meek enough to take the advice and in turn fortunate enough to have read a good variety of books.
I still remember that summer afternoon, when I was browsing books in the British Council Library. There was this elderly lady beside me. She looked at me, and suddenly took out a book from the shelf and said, “This is a very good book for boys your age”. It was “Out of the Shelter” by David Lodge. I never saw the lady again, but to this day, I am grateful to her for recommending that wonderful book.
Somewhere down the line, the mix of reading became more diverse. My high school physics tutor introduced me to “Surely you are joking, Mr. Feynman” by the Physicist and Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman and to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. My mom encouraged me to read Daphne Du Maurier’s classics like Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and my favourite, Hungry Hill (you must must read it!). I read a few books on the holocaust, notable amongst them, “Inside the third Reich” by Albert Speer. This got me interested in a subject, I used to abhor during my school days- History! If you are interested in history of the Middle East, I would recommend “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winner, who probably is more famous for his book “The World Is Flat”. I still have not read that one! Try out “History of the Sikhs – Vol. I & II” by Khushwant Singh, if you want something about Indian history.
Off late though, I spend more time buying books than reading them. With most of my time consumed in editing the photos I click and counting the number of “likes” they get, I only get time to read magazines!
And the lack of time ensures that I take ages to finish any book I start. Quite a fall for someone, who never misses the chance to brag about how he finished The Fountainhead, in a single day! 😀
For last one month, I have been reading “The River of Smoke” by Amitav Ghosh( one of my favourite authors) and re-reading The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, the New York based Neuro-surgeon, whose books deal with unique medical cases he dealt with. Both are excellent books. I also strongly recommend Hungry Tide and Sea of Poppies (first part to River of Smoke) by Amitav Ghosh.
But, if asked to pick the most enjoyable phase of my reading journey, I would pick the adventures of The Famous Five. Enid Blyton had this way with words, which captures your imagination for good…. I want to have a Treacle Tart right now! 🙂
What kind of books do YOU enjoy reading?