The first or the oldest memory is me crouching on the bed and reading a book in torchlight (though it was broad daylight) under the quilt covers. The theatrics was conducted to get an adventurous feel of reading inside a cave and to avoid listening to the shrill whistle of cooker in which my mother was preparing (probably) sarson methi saag (yucky) for me and Papa .This whole cooking smell and routine homely noise used to spoil 'the' atmosphere, the aura of treasures and adventures ,fairies and gnomes ,plump Russian characters like 'mitushka' and others playing in snow surrounded by tall fir ,poplar and birch trees.....That's why that quilt was SO dearly necessary as
I was simply not ready to come back to the real Indian soil of daal-roti -saag and mangoes.This memory is when I was five and was living in a small, quiet town of Uttar Pradesh- Hapur.
At that young age , I was much enamoured by books and stories, always wanting to be a writer and nothing else.
I was introduced early to Russian literature by my father and Russian stories have much to offer. Both my parents along with my maternal grandparents were deeply into books and literature. While mum was a Hindi and English literature Post graduate, Papa did his PG in Philosophy.My nanaji, fondly called Daddy by each and every person younger to him was the origin of this love.He was a very humble and honest person with an ocean of knowledge .Urdu Adab, Faarsi, Hindi and English languages were his pets with whom ,when he used to converse, the languages themselves were gratified to be dealt by him.
To be able to explain a topic to a child of class1 as well as to a research scholar with equal ease and relevance was his forte`.He passed away when I was in class 4th.I remember my class because even in that painful condition he made notes for my English literature,Geography and History chapters.I stood First in class and was lauded with appreciation for the lucidity of my answers.
I am unfortunate to lose him without being taught by him (my cousins were luckier)I was young and naïve and did not want to study in June holidays. Instead I would gorge on Billu ,Pinky and Chacha Chaudhrys by the tons from Bittu bhaiyya's shop.
Bittu bhaiyya was a pal of my youngest mama and so he was lucky to get the second position in my fav list. First rank holder always being chote Mama of course!
At that time holidays meant mama.
I used to think Bittu bhaiyya as a bad Bhaiyya as he would allow ONLY six comics at a time.Felt so mean of him. Later, I realised that mum (She was against my reading such small print of comics) had instructed him to give me only two a day!
and he was in fact a dear mama as he took pity on me and lent 6 comics.. sometimes even twice a day!
So all my hols were reading ,reading and reading! Not only the Pran Comics I could and would ANYTHING! be it folk tales or life of Chacha nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, 'Jatak kathas- the stories from life of Buddha, ACKs , essays and other prose i.e. 'gadya' ,poetry or kavita , plays means naatak ,newspaper, even the lifafas (made up of magazines pages) in which daddy used to bring murmure.
Daddy used to feed me as I was wary of green veggies and he used to trick me in eating those. He would ask what story I would like to listen ? what setting I would love to have the story in and what characters viz. ducks, a girl, a peacock I wanted? I generally went for a fawn , peacock sometimes fairies and a thug .
He and my father told many anecdote of thugs and their thugee. While listening I'd eat louki and tori without realizing. My third Mama Aashutosh would help him in feeding me by making apt noises and grunts at required places in the story thus, adding life to the characters .
With daddy around, I never felt the need of books .He was my Encyclopedia with a human touch - compassionate, understanding , simplifying facts and life for me. After my father's demise it was him who talked to me like my father used to do.... about school, friends and stories. I lost him very early...before realizing the importance of his presence.
Now as I do realize, I try to spend time with kids in the same way he used to do with me. I had only little bits of him and my father both but, still I am brimmed ....
So I try to make my presence , my affection count in the life of other children just like his and Papa's counted in mine.....
I also have a natural affection for children starting with my little cousins to close at home babies, Naman and Kriti.... they all were my angels. Specially ,Nammu bhai who got the most of me .... even more then my own kids as I was free in every sense during his toddler days and he lived less then a stone's throw from me. Don't know how he feels now,but I had this 'Naman effect' which made me feel loved and blessed. He was as broken hearted as me when I got whisked away by the villain in the story - his Fufaji ,my husband! He used to understand fully what I was not saying... and vice-versa. There are many poignant anecdotes with him etched hard in my mind which I will NEVER forget.
With Kriti things were more pragmatic ..... and poetical at the same time . She would doze off while listening to endless poems and stories and would wakeup if 'd stop.She would chaff Naman for his romanticism and look at me for approval. The Jan-e-man girl!
With Shikhar it was more like Naman and the distance never mattered .He would have a intuition in those phone-less days as a 2 year old that I was coming !!
So many pages of this life are full of love and warmth and the garden of books have offered me a great many blooms of exotic scents .. a blessing I will keep on imparting....