Dear Joy and Deeti –
Did you know that between 1976 and 2003, I did not miss a single Calcutta Book Fair?
I first visited the Calcutta Book Fair in the first year of its existence, as a toddler. My parents – having nothing to do on a Sunday evening – decided to go there on a whim and the entire family was hooked. However, I became the certified bibliomaniac of the family at a very early age and I used to bully everyone into taking me to the Book Fair till I could go on my own.
I think that’s how love of books starts. Somebody ignites the fire and then you take it over – if you have the taste for it. Else, the fire dies out.
I love reading. I love people who love reading.
Sometimes, I get a little disconcerted with your fascination with Doraemon, Ben 10 and Barney the Dinosaur and often wonder if I am doing enough to get you to love reading.
This makes me look back at my childhood to wonder how I started loving to read. The Calcutta Book Fair is one example, which happened almost by accident.
But some of the others were due to a family who loved reading. And I try to do things like that.
My father never said no to books.
Be it my first Tintin comic (then horrendously expensive) bought at an airport bookstall or a film encyclopaedia bought in London or The Satanic Verses, he got them from all over the world. I buy books for you – sometimes in anticipation of your interest. I must confess I have bought some books that will take Joy another few years to read. I do this as a hint… if you are getting books without asking, imagine what you’ll get if you do ask for it!
My grandmother and aunt indefatigably read me story books.
There was a time when I knew the entire Abol Tabol by heart, thanks to my Pishi’s efforts. I now know the entire text of The Gingerbread Man (word by word), thanks to Deeti.
My Thamma introduced me to Leela Majumdar, Arabian Nights and Ramayan-Mahabharat. I am doing the same to Joy. There’s a series on a mouse called Geronimo Stilton. There’s the Magic Tree House series. I am waiting to get to Harry Potter next.
But even after all these things, we are never sure if we are doing enough.
Your mother – who, unlike me, never brags about her voracious reading – sometimes gets frustrated by the profusion of TV around you and wants me to read Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne to you. She has got her collection of Faraway Tree books. She wants to take you right into the books we loved as children. I am a little unsure of this plan. I believe the surest way of making people hate something is to force them into doing it. What if you don’t like Goopi-Bagha if I rush you into it? What if – in my hurry – I push you to Feluda and you don’t like him?
This diffidence is balanced by the envy I feel for friends whose children are now reading Harry Potter or Feluda – while being just a little older. I envy photographs of children – all the time on Facebook –engrossed in books. I see you reading but then you know how parents are… I get impatient. How long before you say, “Baba, you HAVE to buy me that book?”
But whenever my impatience gets a bit too much, I remember a letter from your Pishi. She wrote this to me when she was studying for a Master’s degree in Mass Communication.
“I just watched Meghe Dhaka Tara. I don’t think I have comments. I’m too ignorant to comment. I am surprised that when I had you next to me and had all those books right in front of me, I never read them. It took me 22 years to appreciate them. I had to come and mail you, because I don’t think I can keep this feeling to myself.”
So, the books are waiting.
For as long as it takes for you to fall in love with them.
PS: Just don’t break the spines or dog-ear the pages.
Diptakirti Chaudhuri works for an internet company. He lives in Gurgaon with his wife, son and daughter.