Monday Memories 9 – A Childhood Reading List

We lived in a house full of books. The range was vast and some of the books were  rare editions which had gone out of print. Reading and story telling were part of our daily life as little children. I inherited a treasure of children’s literature from my elder brother and many new books were bought by my parents to encourage reading habits. I have faint memories of  my mother reading out stories from beautiful colorful picture books and then slowly graduating  to the magnificent tales from all kind of children’s books from across the world. Most of the books were shared and rotated among family friends who had children of readable age.

I think I began reading in Hindi first. People’s Publishing House in Connaught Place sold awesome soviet children’s literature in English as well as in Hindi. A whole generation grew up on these books. During the soviet era the two countries had strong ties and many of books were translated and printed to Hindi and English from Russian. After disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, book exchange went down dramatically. In ’91- ’92 I was able to still buy some editions of children’s literature for my son who was just an infant then. It was a bargain that paid off because soon the books went out of print.

I had thin paperbacks called ‘shyama kali par ujle par wali’ , “masha aur bhalu’ , ‘Tolstoy ki kahaniyan’ , ‘Roosi Lok Kathaye’ and many more which I would read again and again. The books had lovely illustration too mostly by Ivan Bilibin. Similarly the books in English were ‘Babushka and the three kings’, ‘The Frog Princess’, Masha and the Bear’, ‘The Lion and the Dog’, ‘ The Firebird- Russian Fairy Tales’  which I had in Hardcover with a gorgeous phoenix on its cover ( One of my favorite books that remained with me will I was in college), the thrilling tales of Baba Yaga were  the most read I guess. I even bought many of these books for my elder son and they are still with my children. A heritage passed on from one generation to another. I had collection of Russian Folk Tales (many were Slavic folktales) and easy to read abridged versions of stories by Tolstoy and Chekov. One of he books I loved to read as a kid was ‘Wash ’em clean’ a 1923 poem about a small boy who does not want to wash by Chukovsky. It had some characters lie the crocodile from Chukovsky’s other books.  It was hilarious and had such wonderful illustrations. Both my boys loved the book too. Alexander Pushkin was another of my favorite author and his book ‘The Tale of the Tsar Saltan, of his Son, the glorious and mighty prince Guidon Saltanovich, and of the fair Swan-princess’ had beautiful illustrations by Ivan Bilibin.

It is unfortunate that most of these books are either out of print or not available easily unless of course you wish to read them on your computer.

Apart from the favorites from PPH there were other treasures like ‘Little women’ ,  The Famous Five’ and ‘The secret seven’ series and the ‘Enid Blyton Mystery series,  series of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys all handed down by a family friend (which were originally my brother’s given to him for reading). By then I also began reading more soviet classic literature.

Books by A. A. Milne, Roald Dahl, and James Herriot (All things bright and beautiful and All creatures great and small’), Lawrence Darrell  were read and read again.

Apart from these I had children’s magazines called ‘Lilliput’ which were part of my mom’s childhood book collection. Unfortunately many of the rare books  were given away to scrap dealers by my maternal uncle’s family without us even knowing about it. They included many classics and author signed copies too.

There were some exceptional books by British Author Arthur Mee, ‘The Children’s Encyclopedia’ and my favorite ‘ One Thousand Beautiful Things- chosen from The Life and Literature of the World’ . The book had wonderful poetry, prose and illustrations.  I remember distinctly a Peter Pan pop up book which was  a smashing hit with all of us.

I have forgotten the names of many more books now. They come to me like picture postcards from the past sometimes. I gave away many of the books to a library and some were passed on to my boys. I can name hundreds of others which I read and loved as a young girl.

I had a large collection of books and children’s magazines in Hindi too. Mostly paperbacks. When Kid1 began to read I got him books from SAHMAT  . Adi loved the simple narrative and his favorite was Bansuriwala by Safdar Hashmi.

I highly recommend these books for younger children. Regional literature for children is a good choice for reading. It connects the young minds to their culture and surroundings.  Buy such books and magazines for kids.

I have only two books now remaining from my childhood collection – Now we are six and In Poem Town- 1 ( The 7 remaining volumes  of this book were just given away as scraps by my uncle’s family 😦  )

In Poem Town is from my maternal grandfather's collection, handed down from mom to me.

In Poem Town is from my maternal grandfather’s collection, handed down from mom to me.

My boys are grown up now but I hope they will keep those lovely companions of their childhood days.

Do share what you read as a child and what books your children read.

Storytelling is a dying art. Please read stories to your children. Inculcate early reading habits.

Children’s books are portable magic , open the minds of your young ones  to this magical extravaganza.

Select them with care for “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” C.J. Lewis

The joy of Letter Writing

Rummaging through the corridors of the bygone days ,I found in my drawer ,a red envelope ,neatly tied with ribbon …and my face lit up with the memory of my grandmother ,my aaji, Vardha Moghe ..A remarkable woman of substance, she did her Bsc. (Botany) From Ferguson college, way back when girls hardly ventured into the field of science .Wrote workbooks of science for little children ,and played sitar to perfection.
I remember her as a soft spoken charming lady whose very presence made me feel warm n loved .I treasure the childhood days spent at her home in Pune .the fresh dollop of butter ,laying in her cozy lap ,her chubby soft little hands caressing my head ,..Her sweet honey filled voice still fills me with nostalgia .I loved her so much that I called her Aai(mother).I still do .

Fondly I looked at the yellow piece of paper in my hand..Broken handwriting..Illegible words..This was her last letter to me .Her body was wasting away due to osteoarthritis and she was going through a lot of agony .I remember the time when my aunt had to cut her long silvery hair to a short bob cut as it was becoming difficult to manage them as she lay on her bed unable to move. .the letter was written in 1979 just two years before she passed away.

Tender words of love and care, so painstakingly written to her favorite grand daughter .
I don’t remember how many times I must have read it folded and unfolded it during all these years..Even now, when I am low or troubled I see her round soft wrinkle free face and that priceless smile..It ceases all my pain.
This letter made me wonder how in the world of emails and sms, we have forgotten this wonderful art of hand written letters..The lovely stationary we kept..The personnel touch that each letter carried with it .the anticipatory wait for the postman to bring some news from a loved one..It was a wonderful feeling which was very private between the sender and the receiver. Sometimes the fragrance which brought back happy times spent together, all this is missing in today’s electronic world of communication.

Looking back I fondly recall writing and receiving hundreds of letters to and from my family, relatives and friends. But now my snail mailbox is wrought with bills, credit card inquiries and TONS of junk mail! I personally think it’s exciting to find a handwritten letter or card waiting for me at the end of the day.

Letter-writing is sadly a dying art form but it needs reviving. If not long winded letters, one should at least consider writing notes. I encourage my children to make cards ,write notes ,letters as we did .I myself make it a point to send hand written letters and cards as much as I can .It brings a person closer to you .