I remember we had a library period in our school timetable when I was a kid. We used to rush to the library with sweet anticipation in our hearts for the new books that were added to the collection at regular intervals. Taking in the smell of old and new books as we entered the library, we went about scanning the bookshelves and collected the books to check out for home. Since my sister studied in the same school, we used to have double the number of books checked out every week. We read whenever we could, sometimes even sneaking them into the bathroom and having the time of our lives reading them uninterrupted until my mother came looking for us. I remember she had to take the book away from our tiny hands sometimes because we wanted to read while having dinner too. With thick spectacles and my nose buried in books all the time, I knew I was a misfit. I was quite shy in class, didn’t enjoy sports and felt uncomfortable in big groups of children. At least Hermione spoke up and had an adventurous time at Hogwarts, but I preferred the company of books and a few close friends, away from the limelight.
I loved immersing myself in the lives of the Little Women, or going on an adventure with Tintin, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven, solving mysteries with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, or being awed by Mowgli, the Lion King, 101 Dalmatians, and Black Beauty, or musing over the tales of Panchatantra, Arabian Nights and Gulliver Travels, or admiring the wit in Akbar Birbal and Tenali Raman, or giggling while reading Twinkle, Champak and Archies. I grew up with the adventures of Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield, and even understood The Tale of Two Cities and Christmas Carol while I was in school.
The stories captured my attention, flared my imagination and immersed me in different worlds with each book I picked up. From the simple rustic life in Malgudi Days and Ruskin Bond collection to the fantastical world of Narnia and Harry Potter, I experienced it all as I let the books consume me completely. R.L.Stine scared me with Goosebumps and Jules Verne taught me perseverance through A Journey to the Center of the Earth. Amar Chitra Katha taught me to appreciate my cultural heritage, ancient history, and traditions of India. Doga made me believe in uprooting the problem from its roots. Chacha Chaudhary made me realize that a strong mind is more powerful than a strong body. I didn’t even realize how I grew up from The Velveteen Rabbit and Winnie The Pooh to Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
Studies state that sustained reading is vital for creativity, imagination, critical thinking and emotional intelligence in the developing brain of a child. I read for entertainment, for education, and for enlightenment. In a way, the books I read helped me find myself. Through them, I learned about the importance of family and friends, of marveling in the joy of childhood and facing the challenges of adolescence. The stories helped me deal with internal longing and the emotions of growing up, of disappointment and anger, of betrayal and forgiveness, of courage and heroism, of loss and transformation. I learned about virtues and vices, and the need to fight for justice. There was the concept of Good versus Evil in these stories and they gave me hope that justice prevails despite all obstacles. Some stories developed empathy for the suffering of others while others brought forth feelings of compassion and kindness towards animals and people alike. A few stories made me realize that mistakes helped people grow into better versions of themselves. I could relate to some characters and saw the same situation from a different perspective, developed a more practical approach to the imaginary problems of a child. Some characters made me realize how fortunate I was because I wasn’t in their situation. I learned to be humble and grateful, and how to be resourceful, to fight for the right of others and never to give up. I would like to believe the books I’ve read made me a better human being.
More than that, the books showed me that there is an enormous world out there, big enough for even for misfits and unconventional children like me to eventually find a place of their own.
That’s the power of stories…