Thanks Dipali , for your post which inspired this return from a fairly long hiatus from blogging - http://dipalitaneja.blogspot.com/2010/05/books-make-difference.html
My earliest memory of books is the ten volume set of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia set to me by my uncle from London . I remember poring over volume after volume , first spelling the words and trying to make sense because my mother couldnt spare the time to read to me as much as I wanted her to do , and then I started to read . very suddenly . I would spend entire afternoons on a bench in the back verandah crouching over volume after volume .
And the world opened up . Names of countries and their flags , art treasures , poetry which I could not make sense of and stories - fables, legends , myths , history - all marched through in a colourful parade . This was when I was four . There were other books too - the Ladybird series and Ivanhoe - a graphic novel , the Phantom comics , the fairy tales of Hans Anderson and the Brothers Grimm .
Jamshedpur was limited in its stock of books so whenever my father had a business trip he would come back with a book for me , a habit which continued till he died.
In Kolkata , slightly older, I discovered Enid Blyton and the envied world of the girls of St Clare's and Malory Towers , Angela Brazil and Elinor M Brent Dyer ,
Books were , however, rationed . I still remember agonising over a choice I had to make over two Angela Brazils because I was allowed to buy only one . That was Baba teaching us restraint. Ma on the other hand thought nothing of buying me a book on her way back fro her shopping trips .
I was lucky however that neither of my parents monitored my reading habits or banned any books . The library was ours to raid . And how I read - Ian Fleming , Dostoevsky , Pearl Buck , Agatha Christie , PG Wodehouse , Somerset Maugham, Maupassant , poetry , Chekhov , Hardy , comics ,Leslie Charteris ,Laurens Van der Post , volumes of the Readers Digest Condensed series and like many children of my generation the glorious World Atlas ,books from the local lending library "Mullick's ( the man who ran it - Mamu still runs one on Freeschool Street).
My father often read aloud to us - , sharing something he had liked in some book - and I often draw a parallel to this with Ashis who reads out to us in a similar manner . Like my parents we have no embargoes on "suitable reading'for the children who have the run of all our books .
The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley , The Stars look down by AJ Cronin ,The Winthrop Woman , Mother and Peony both by pearl S Buck dominated the better part of my adolescence along with Ian Fleming and Leon Uris and Ayn Rand .
The Russian classics were great favourites especially War and Peace and Anna Karenina - they had to be read very carefully for the content , the vast panoramic canvas and the innumerable characters . My love for the English classics was fuelled by Bronte's Wuthering Heights , Jane Eyre and Austen's Emma and all of Hardy.
Enduring loves have been James Michener's The Drifters , Leon Uris'Armageddon which shows both sides of the war , Sophie's Choice , Kipling's Kim , To Kill a Mockingbird,Anna Karenina , The Razor's Edge. The snows of Kilimanjaro and Dr Zhivago. These are books to which I return again and again and possessions I treasure the most . To me not being able to read would probably drive me to suicide !
Having said this it is very difficult to say which book had the deepest impact on my life since different books had different effects on me at different times in my life . I would read a book, think about it , revisit it , imagine the characters and so on . Therefore I like to think that the books I treasure most have had a collective impact on my life, my thinking , and the person I am .