Don’t Break The Spine
UNESCO recognises 23rd April each year as World Book Day, also known as World Book and Copyright Day, or International Day of the Book, to promote reading, publishing, and copyright. This special occasion is an excuse for us readers to get some more reading done. And since most of us are in our homes, what better excuse could we have to take a break and bury our noses in a book?
I was a lover of books even before I knew how to read. In fact, reading has been a part of my identity for as long as I remember.
My father has been an avid reader since childhood. Probably that is why he made sure my brother and I inherited his love for books. When I was four or five years old, before I even knew how to read complete sentences, he used to sit my brother and me down and read Tintin comics out loud. I remember looking at the colourful illustrations and feeling a sense of accomplishment when I could connect the words with the pictures and the story would take shape in my head. I was an impatient child. I couldn’t wait till I would be old enough so I could read comics on my own.
Time doesn’t work according to my whims, of course. It took me at least seven or eight more years before I could understand enough English to read a Tintin comic. But my love for books had found other shapes, other forms. I still remember the first book I read on my own was a book on a fairy tale — the ones with large, friendly letters and colourful illustrations connecting the story with the words. It was called ‘The Frog Prince’ and it told the story of a princess who kissed a frog and he turned into a handsome prince. My father had bought this book for me from a travelling book fair at my school (There was a publishing company back in those days called Pohar Prakashan that travelled from school to school on a colourful, cosily-decorated bus).
When I completed this fairy tale, I remember feeling so proud of myself — like it was a BIG achievement. I haven’t looked back since then. I kept reading books of short stories and longer, more complex fairy tales until I laid my hands on my first novel. It was a “Five find outers and dog” by Enid Blyton I borrowed from my cousin when I was ten. I remember being ensnared by Blytons words and not wanting to stop reading until the adventure was done.
The memories of those days bring a smile to my face. There is another incident that I vividly remember. I grew up in Jorhat — a small town in Assam.
Back in the school days, my family only had money to buy only one novel a month (usually, I picked an Enid Blyton or RL Stine or Agatha Christie).
However, the good ‘uncle’ of the bookstore knew me and my best friend well, as we were his “regulars”. We used to visit him each evening and stare awestruck at the huge collection of books he had.
Uncle asked us to just talk about our favourite books to every person who came to the bookstore. In exchange, we could read any book we wished. This was like a dream come true because we could get so much reading done, and also get to talk about our favourite books to so many kind strangers each day.
I called that best friend of mine a few days back. In fact, talking to her triggered this beautiful memory. As we were discussing, she told me that it was probably also an incredible marketing tactic. When two little girls with their hair in pigtails talk with so much passion about some book, it gets very difficult for an adult to not buy that.
I laughed Looking at that incident in a different perspective was interesting.
But, whatever it was, this remains one of my most cherished childhood memories. Because of the bookstore uncle and his kindness, not only did I get a lot of reading done, I also learned some great habits. Uncle had one condition he was strict about — that we wouldn’t break the spine or dog-ear pages. Till today, these remain habits I follow religiously.
And just like my parents who always encouraged reading, I have that kind man in his colourful bookstore for making my childhood full of adventures.