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Rekha Chowdhary
I attribute my habit of reading books to the availability of reading material in my house when I was growing up. Both my parents were into reading books and magazines and my early memories are therefore linked with the reading material that was just lying around. While my father was a regular subscriber of Illustrated Weekly of India, Reader Digest and Imprint, my mother used to regularly read Hindi magazines like Dharamyug and Sarita.

Random Reflections

I remember eagerly waiting for the Illustrated Weekly week after week and to open it backwards – from the last page. The reason for this because the last pages contained the column ‘This week for you’ and four series of cartoons. As a child, this is what I could relate to in one of the best English magazine that was ever published in India. I still remember the two of the four cartoons that were carried in the magazine – Denis the Menace and Phantom. Later as I grew up I could appreciate the quality of the magazine and read some of the best political, cultural and social essays in this magazine. Readers’ Digest had lot of fun stuff – the small humour columns and some real life stories but it also used to have an abridged novel. My exposure to fiction, I think started with these abridged novels. Imprint was a serious literary kind of magazine and also contained fiction. One book that I distinctly remember having read in this magazine was Rosemary’s Baby – that was simultaneously absorbing and yet very scary.
My interest in fiction was simultaneously groomed in Hindi and English. My mother was a fast reader and the monthly supply of six Hindi novels by VPP from the Hind Pocket Books would not be sufficient for her and she would often go for books on rent. The Hind Pocket Books provided the best of Hindi fiction – it was through these books that I could get acquainted with writers like Munshi Prem Chand, Sharat Chander, Tagore, Krishan Chander, Mohan Rakesh. My father meanwhile introduced me to fiction in English. He loved short stories of Thomas Hardy and Arthur Cannon O Dyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Having a degree and interest in Law, Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series of novels were his favourite. Apart from this he had appreciation for classics and introduced us to Charles Dickens, Jane Austin and Leo Tolstoy and Pearl S Buck.
As I reached college, the College library further boosted my love for books. The Women’s College Srinagar, where I was studying, had two libraries, one for text books and the other containing general books. It is here that I got introduced to the popular English fiction of the time with the authors like Agatha Christie, Thomas Hadley Chase, Irving Stone, Daniel Steel, Harold Robbins, Irving Wallace.
In my journey of reading, I often would get struck up with a book and would either get back to it again and again or find it difficult to move on to another book. In my school/college days I was struck up with a Hindi novel which I read a number of times and every time it moved me emotionally. This was Dharamveer Bharati’s Gunahon Ka Devta. Chander and Sudha, the two characters of the novel were to remain a part of my ideal version of love and romance for a long time. It was during the same age that I was also struck up with Charlotte Brontte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne De Maurier’s Rebbeca. It seems this was the age when I was relating to purity and ideal romance. It was much later that I would be able to relate to more pragmatic and reality-oriented versions of human relations. Though I remember reading Shivani’s Hindi stories (courtesy my mother’s collection) and relating to the complex and layered and even negative characters that she portrayed. Then came a stage when I started looking for more philosophical depth in fiction. It was in this regard that Hermen Hesse’s Sidhartha appealed me tremendously. So much liking I have had for this book that I have been going back to it again and again. Of course I didn’t like the movie which was based on this novel with the same name (with Simi Grewal and Shashi Kapoor), for the simple reason that it could not carry the depth of philosophy that the book had. It is for the same deeper philosophical base that I got struck up with Ayn Rand for a long time, after reading Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, I couldn’t read anything new. So I read everything that she had written including We the Living, Anthem and the Night of January 16th. So struck up I was this author that I had to wait for quite some to read another author. It is then I got hold of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, a very small book with lots of pictures. This book (by Richard Bach) talking about passion, perfection and challenging the limits – was so fascinating that I started exploring the other books by Bach and went through The Bridge Across Forever, One and Illusions. Over the period, I have found many authors with similar philosophical depth.
Reading the books has its own charm, but lately I have started exploring the audio books. Due to some eye related issue I just started exploring the YouTube and found some very good audio books there. To experiment I started with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Kafka’s Metamorphosis and to my surprise I discovered that listening rather than reading gave me greater concentration to grasp these not-so-easy to read books. Also, I could read/listen to the book while walking and even while cooking or cleaning the house. And the next inevitable step for me was to subscribe to Amazon’s Audible which gives you three free books to begin with and then one free book every month, with a subscription of two hundred rupees only. So I have been reading/listening randomly and in last few months only I have done enough reading/listening.
On finding George Orwell in the audible, I used the opportunity of re-reading (or rather listening) both Animal Farm and 1984. I also completed Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan; Kabir Bedi’s autobiography Stories I must Tell; William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy; Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, Kamla Das’s My Story and Rishi Kapoor’s autobiography Khulam Khulla. And the books that I have already kept in my library include Shrilal Shukla’s famous Hindi novel Rag Darbari, Anita Nair’s Lessons in Forgetting and Michelle Obama’s Becoming.
On the whole, audio books is a pleasant experience and I would recommend it to those still hesitating to shift from reading to listening. Of course, there is no comparison of an audible book with a printed copy which one can hold in one’s hand and feel it. There is this old world charm of possessing a book and keeping it in the book case and sharing it with others. And also there are lot of issues with audio books – of these the most important being the limited range of books in the audible form. Not all the books that have been published are available in this form. And this is more so in the case of new books. If one is keen to read a new book, one must read it in printed form only. So audio books can be an add-on thing and while reading the hard copy, one can also listen to audio books. I am sure listening to audio books will open a new vista for book lovers. And for those challenged with eyesight issues, it can offer an ideal solution.

Categories: books

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