Down the (Nostalgic) Rabbit Hole

Jumping into the rabbit hole, shipwrecked on the island of Lilliput, winning the Golden Ticket to a chocolate factory, solving mysteries across adventures in England. Every year, Diwali cleaning in my house means that my big cardboard box of childhood memorabilia, or rather nostalgia, comes out. Among other knickknacks like Barbie dolls, battery-operated cars, and Lego blocks, out also comes my childhood reading.

With modern entertainment systems taking over, reading as a hobby, especially among children, is not as popular as it used to be. I remember reading my first book in second grade, when to improve my atrocious Hindi spellings and reading, my mother and I co-read the Hindi translation of The Call Of The Wild by Jack London. We took turns reading chapters out aloud, and managed to finish the book in a couple of days. The ending of the story was heartbreaking, and I remember being so emotionally shaken by it that I would dream about Buck and his fate. With The Call Of The Wild, I ventured into the world of reading, and there was no looking back The next book was another classic—it was Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days, again a translated Hindi version. If The Call Of The Wild kindled my emotions, this one kindled my imagination. It was like my first travel experience, where I travelled almost the entire world, in a maddening adventure of a lifetime. It was then that I started to create my first travel bucket list, and the first item of order was to travel the same route as Mr Fogg did. Hopefully, it won’t take 80 days to cover the same route now!

The strikingly illustrated books from Children’s Book Trust were cherished treasures. I particularly remember one called Chumki Posts A Letter, a reading that was followed by an outing to the post office with my mother, where we bought postcards, stamps, inland letters and whatnot, and also posted a letter to our own address!

It is impossible to talk about childhood reading without mentioning the doyenne of children’s literature, Enid Blyton. The Famous Five books made for delightful reading, and the entire series (and some really oId editions of it, too) were available for my perusal at the Delhi Public Library. I cannot be grateful enough to my parents for making me a member of the Delhi Public Library, where I spent some of the happiest hours of my childhood, lost in the labyrinth of books. It would also be unfair to leave my third-grade librarian out of my childhood reading story. Perhaps, the reason I never missed out on my weekly reading of the book that was issued at the school library, was because while taking returns, she would ask us to summarise it. Scared of having nothing to say, I would always ensure that my reading would be up to date. Although, I remember there was a time when the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys shelves were opened for the class, and the librarian segregated the Nancy Drews for the girls to choose from, and the Hardy Boys, well no surprise here, were presented to the boys. As much as I enjoyed the Nancy Drew series, I remember being always attracted to the forbidden fruit. And, one day, I did it. I went and asked to be issued a Hardy Boys book instead of a Nancy Drew. I was ridiculed by the boys (and the girls) for my choice, and was told reading a ‘boys’ book made me a boy! I was surprised then, as I am now, at how unnecessary gender norms are drilled into us, right from our childhood.

After reading Jules Verne, I was encouraged by my family to pick up more classics. I started with the abridged versions, and soon moved onto reading the complete editions. Charles Dickens became a favourite very soon, and I was completely blown away by his ability to evoke emotions. I was too young then to understand his commentary on the Industrial Revolution at that time, but the storytelling was still quite soul-stirring. My father then presented me with an old copy of Children’s Stories From Dickens, which was a compilation of various stories by Charles Dickens from his various books, put together by his granddaughter, Mary Angela Dickens. Years later, when I had a chance to visit the Charles Dickens Museum in London, which was actually his old house, I could imagine him sitting at his desk, churning out characters like David Copperfield, old Scrooge, and others! It was like visiting a shrine!

There are too many writers and their books which really shaped my childhood. From the Indian subcontinent, R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond swept me off my feet. Narayan’s Malgudi delighted me through both mediums—books and television. Swami’s life and story were so relatable, especially because even at a drop of a hat, my father would insist on writing a strong-worded letter to the school, just like Swami’s father would. Ruskin Bond, on the other hand, transported me to the magical mountains of Mussoorie, and his jovial characters always made my day.

I could go on and on, and even write a book on my childhood reading perhaps, but I cannot end this article without mentioning Harry Potter. For me, it is definitely the greatest fantasy series of my generation, and an experience from which I have derived some of my values and principles. I started reading Harry Potter when I was 10 years old, and like many, I hoped that when I would turn 11, a letter addressed to me from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry would arrive. Alas, the letter never came, but the magic continued to delight me for the rest of my childhood, teenage years, and continued right into adulthood, when the end of the era came with the final instalment of the movie. Since I read The Call Of The Wild, in my second grade, I have come a long way. I have read hundreds of books since then, re-read many, and truly earned the title of a bookworm. But of all the reading that I have done in all these years, nothing has affected me, shaped me, and had an impact on me, like my childhood reading. Perhaps it is the imagination that has narrowed since childhood, or the cynicism of adulthood, but the way the stories and the characters from my childhood stayed with me, that feeling is truly incomparable.

Focusing on Literature and Lifestyle of the Urban Youth of the Country, LitGleam is a monthly magazine, an intrinsic part of BlueRose Publishers.

Within its pages, our readers find provocative essays on literature and lifestyle, guidance for getting published and pursuing writing careers, in-depth profiles of poets, fiction writers, and writers of creative nonfiction, and conversations among fellow professionals.