It started with ‘The Children of Kidlin’ when I was all of eight. It was the middle of summer vacations. I had just finished my class 3 examinations. My mother gave me a two-in-one story book by Enid Blyton: The Children of Kidlin and one more story the details of which now escape me. I’d never heard of Enid Blyton and wasn’t quite sure what to make of this gift. Little was I to know that I was about to embark on a love affair which was to last a life time. Or that I would gorge on Enid Blytons one-after-another for the next 4-5 years, pestering everyone I knew to give me nothing but an Enid Blyton book for my birthday.
When I think back to all those years ago what I remember the most vividly is the feeling of gliding into another world as soon as I started reading – a world that had seemed as far away from the reality I inhabited as possible. It was a world full of children who braved spies and storms, and of children who gathered together for midnight feasts. It was a world of picturesque little villages dotting the English countryside and of my favourite character, Fredrick Algernon Trotville or F.A.T-ty as he was christened by his friends. Fatty, who effortlessly outwitted the village constable Mr. Goon, solving one mystery after another and leaving poor Mr. Goon looking like a bumbling old fool.
As I’ve stepped into the world of grown-ups the stories and the worlds they play out in are not so innocuous anymore – shades of heartbreak and fear and failure colour them often. Yet, these fictional worlds continue to suck me into them; at times offering solace from my own concerns and anxieties and at times inciting in me another sort of tension as I worry about the fate of a particular character. In fact there are so many instances when I am unaware of the specifics of what awaits me inside a story. It could be a fast-paced adventure sweeping me along, depositing me in the middle of a gritty climax where ordinary boys and girls become heroes and heroines fighting tyranny and control (like The Hunger Games trilogy) or it could be about the problems and the mundane concerns which plague people as they go about the business of living their lives (like The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series).
It does not matter.
As I’m forced to see the world through the eyes of a character I have trouble warming up to, I learn compassion. And the fact that everyone has a reason for acting the way they do. I learn about the newspaper business and about the struggles which accompany the old giving way to new. I’m able to see the stupidity of not saying, “I love you” to people you love because of pride and ego. I come to know about the Incas of Peru and experience the heart-aches of being the odd one out. I find myself empathizing with and cheering on the fascinating women who lived in the nineteenth century. I feel comforted by the quirkiness and whimsy nature of our species.
Philosophies of life and the mysteries of the universe; a look into the human psyche and a glimpse into tinders which spark war; the tides of fate and the power to shape your own destiny; love which catches you unaware and hatred which has no reason; grand passions and the everydayness of our lives; social injustices and the seemingly simple gestures which spark revolutionary changes – all this and much more have I encountered inside the words of the bound pages.
And this is the reason why I love the written word so deeply – it not only allows me to escape into a world not my own but also allows me to re-emerge from it with a deeper understanding of who I am and the world I inhabit.