My mother was only 18 when she got married in Kerala and went to live with my father in Calcutta. As it was a new place, it wasn’t surprising that she struggled to adjust to the culture, food, language and customs.
During the day when my father went to work, my mother felt lonely. That was when she picked up her first paperback from a shelf of books on my father’s table. She never stopped reading since. One of my most vivid memories of childhood was to see my mother with her nose buried in a book. I must have been five at the time. It seemed a pleasurable activity, because my mother had a peaceful look on her face.
Recently, while reminiscing about my childhood, she gave me another image. When I was a year old, she would sit on an armchair, place me on her lap, and read the newspaper. So, as a tiny tot, I would stare at print for several minutes every day.
It would have been a soothing moment for me: leaning against my mother I could probably feel her heartbeat. And then there was this pleasant silence, punctuated now and then by the rustle of the pages being turned.
My mother said, “You were the perfect baby. You never cried or made a fuss. In fact, once you went to sleep at 7pm, you would only wake up at 7 am. So I could safely leave you with the maid and go for a night show with your father.”
When I was seven or eight, we went for holidays to Kerala and spent time in my grandparents’ house at Muvattupuzha. My grandfather suffered from glaucoma and could not see. But he was always keen to know about the latest in news. So my mother would sit next to him and read the entire newspaper, from snippets, to local news, editorials, national and international reports, and on to the sports pages.
I would sit next to my mother and listen to her. The entire exercise took about 50 minutes. Is it any wonder that, with of background, I became a voracious reader, and a print journalist?
I have spent many hours in libraries at Kolkata, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Kochi. I enjoyed the meditative silence of reading rooms. Nobody disturbs you as you sit alone, with a magazine and your thoughts. The cacophony that characterises life in India is kept outside, more so, if it’s an air-conditioned hall like the United States Information Service library in Kolkata.
Perhaps this activity was also an unconscious reminder of the time I spent with my mother, enjoying her love and companionship.
Today, at 78, she no longer reads books, but is an avid reader of newspapers. I still devour books, magazines, newspapers and do relentless reading on the Internet.
And my children, a boy and a girl, are both keen readers, though my daughter prefers to pore over the Kindle!
Time goes on, but I silently thank my mother for this wonderful gift of reading that she has passed on to me and my children.