Menaka Raman is a former copywriter and freelance journalist. Her son Sachit is in Sr. Kg Shraddha and she has another son Shyam all set to become a Shishuvanite this April. Menaka is a bibliophile, runner and eats too much cheese.
Some time ago, I came across an Emily Buchwald quote. It read: “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents”. So lovely, simple and true.
My own childhood memories of reading are vivid. Dick Brown’s ‘Miffy’ stories, Mr. Men and Little Miss books, breezing through Enid Blyton before devouring Roald Dahl and then heading in the direction of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Sweet Valley High, the last a precursor to a year wasted on Mills & Boon.
My parents had one rule, if you wanted to read books you borrowed them from the library. Thankfully, growing up in Chennai you were spoiled for choice when it came to them, and still are.
From the imposing Connemara Library to the modern edifice that is the Anna Centenary Library, Chennai is a city filled with book lenders. But the city’s favourite establishments are perhaps the more humble ones, often named after a family deity: Murugan Lending, Rajyalakshmi Lending and Vinayaka Library. Crammed with books from floor to ceiling, most do brisk business on the strength of their Harlequin Romances and David Baldaccis, but you’ll often find Ghosh, Rushdie and DeLilo sitting quite comfortably next to them.
Every fortnight, my father and I would venture out post our post Saturday lunch siesta. He would kick start our Kinetic Honda to life and we’d head sraight to Eashwari, our preferred book house.
Once there, my father and I would part ways, surely an exaggeration given that the library was no larger than our living room. But those few hundred square feet were divided with enough racks to make it look like a book lined rabbit’s warren.
There was no limit on the number of books I could take out.
My father never grumbled about the dozens of books I would bring home, even when all of them were treacly Mills & Boons with titles that no doubt made him shudder in horror (The Spaniard’s Virgin Mistress; His Pregnant Secretary).
When I was ready to leave those granite-jawed Spaniards behind, my father was patiently waiting in the wings, ready to shepherd me towards other literary realms, some which I took to quite happily. Others not so much. P.G Wodehouse was a success (but then perhaps he is with all Tam Brahms of a certain vintage). Louise L’amour sadly didn’t make the cut.
But it wasn’t always my father guiding me through the maze of books. We made many a discovery together, and I still remember our mutual joy on reading Dalrymple and Theroux for the first time. And there were the times we disagreed “How can you read this Rushdie fellow?” he would often exclaim.
Books selected, we would head off for tiffin to the Woodland’s Drive In, a Chennai institution now sadly turned into a park with a duck pond. We would order our onion rava dosas and filter coffee, pick a book and start reading till our orders came.
Our conversations over tiffin and coffee often centred around books but also touched upon my father’s days at DU and my tween-ridden dramas. He would ferry me back and forth and make quiet suggestions, astute observations and sometimes, wisely, say nothing at all.
Our fortnightly library trips were something that happened all through school and college, rarely disturbed but in the case of out station visits. They didn’t stop even in the midst of board exams and college finals.
While I’m sure I sat on my parents lap and was read to as a child, I sadly have have no recollection of the same. But our fortnightly trips to Eashwari are still fresh in my mind. They made me the reader I am today.
I guess I was made a reader riding pillion on my father’s Kinetic Honda.