If you grew up in the Nineties, you’re probably familiar with pocket classics – the squat little books with bold typeface (meant for kids, so easier readability) and black and white illustrations.
I had loads of them. Still do, in fact. My nostalgic mother refuses to throw then away. So, they gather dust somewhere in a forgotten corner of a bookshelf in Calcutta (bottom row, most likely. That’s where the displaced ones go, having made space for the newer, heftier, more serious, some-of-them-autographed books on the upper shelves).
I particularly remember RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I don’t think it’s the first book I read, or even the oldest I have. (That has to be the giant, illustrated book of alphabets that was then twice as big as me. Seriously.) But it’s my oldest memory of reading a book. I even faintly remember the sketches of the one-legged Captain Flint with a parrot on his shoulder and a bottle of rum in his hand. ‘Rum’ – It was the first time I heard the word; I loved the musical effect of saying it, and going by the pirate Captain’s fondness, was sure would love its taste too (I do, just not in the way I’d then imagined).
Then there were more: the carefree Huck Finn, cooler in certain ways than Tom Sawyer, and Jim, who was then just Huck’s friend, without any of the colour of race politics I’d decipher much, much later.
It was also my introduction to Shakespeare classics – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet. I would read them several times yet; in college, studying literature, I would discover new facets and layers (I’m sure there’s plenty more yet, because that’s what makes Shakespeare so fascinating). But the storylines in my head are still the ones I read back then.
Of course, I deviated. I didn’t just grow up reading classics, going from Illustrated Shakespeare to Complete Works. There was Tinkle, Superman, Tintin, Chacha Chaudhari (Imagine my excitement when I found them at Comic-Con last year), and that prized, hardbound Asterix collection my uncle gave me on a birthday. Lord of the Rings was still a few years away, and JK Rowling would write Harry Potter much later.
There were phases as well: Famous Five, Nancy Drew etc. If young kids now must survive Twilight, we survived Sidney Sheldon (incomparably brighter and surely more realistic than Stephenie Meyer, however).
But it was the pocket classics I must thank, and my parents, of course, who bought them, for my love of reading. Those ritualistic trips to the dusty annual Calcutta Book Fair, hunting for new books, and then clasping on to them in a polythene bag on the way back – I imagine myself as a perfect little picture of an ardent reader. I exaggerate, of course. But more than the time, I’d be glad to find that indomitable desire to read again.
Sarit is an articulate fellow and an excellent writer who didn't need to be bullied into submitting this post at all (let the record state). You should meet him for a coffee sometime to talk about travel, food, film and most importantly, literature. He's also one of the best amateur shutterbugs I know! Take a look through his photos on Flickr and read more of his stuff on Ideas Random