Books were probably the most important component of my childhood, especially between the ages 8 to 14. I had a few good friends in my neighborhood and at the schools I attended, but I never got interested in sports or music. I found books and I found everything I needed in them in those school years, especially middle school and early high school years.
I had 3 library cards from the nearby City Central Library (CCL), memberships at neighborhood circulating libraries, pulled my parents into book and magazine stores everywhere we went, bought new and secondhand books and devoured all of them. My whole childhood, until I had to study seriously in the 10th Standard, is a complete blur – all I see if myself reading books when I woke, when eating, when sleeping. I would lock my room door, telling my parents I’m studying, and I would be chomping on Enid Blyton adventures. When we visited other people’s homes, when we had vacations at my aunts and uncles’ homes, all I did was read their books, visit their circulating libraries, you get the idea.
So, this page is an attempt to capture some of the memorable books from my childhood. I can remember how most of them looked in print, in their illustrations and cover page design, but sometimes their titles and authors are lost in memory. As I dig more of those out of my memory and I research old books from the Internet, this page will grow.
If we were to go by actual numbers, Enid Blyton was the author whose books I read the most. She was a prolific author, apparently having published a massive 762 books! The neighborhood CCL was where I discovered her and I fell madly in love. She was incredibly popular at CCL, her books were borrowed the moment someone returned them and they were put on the book trolley meant to be restacked. CCL was always ordering more of her books and so I had read her books in all stages of their life: spanking new, mid age and tattered.
Some of the series that I remember enjoying:
I recall salivating over all the food descriptions, fantasizing living in a boarding school and being a detective solving adventures. I distinctly recall that in the middle school, I decided to write a book like Blyton and started off writing a story, much like Famous Five in a diary.
I first discovered these fantastic adventure graphic novels (that is what we call them now?) by Herge at the Children’s Library at the Institute of World Culture. They were tattered and always in high demand. I would bicycle to this library on weekends, park the bicycle outside the children’s library building, just like all the other kids and inside was a world of comic books, including all the ACK titles, Tinkle and Asterix.
Tintin was the series which we could not afford to buy, it was just too expensive. I love the characters, the drop-dead-perfect artwork by Herge so much that I would keep borrowing these books at circulating libraries over many summer vacations in Mysore and Tumkur and rereading them again.
This was a series of 6 thick books by Pustak Mahal, the same publishers who made the Rapidex English Speaking Course and other language books that were popular among my adults. Encyclopedia-like books fascinated me during my childhood, I found them more interesting than the dry science textbooks and I was always on the lookout for books like these. I discovered this series at a family friend’s place and after that every time we visited them, from morning to evening until we said our goodbyes, I would be buried in them, trying to read as much as possible, before it was time to say goodbye. I recall that Pustak Mahal also had some similar book on magic, which also this family friend had and I read them all with relish!
These books were mainly about science. Every page had an interesting question from science and an illustration and the interesting explanation of why.
By sheer numbers, I would say Chandamama was the children’s magazine I read the most. I fell madly in love with the gorgeous illustrations, fantastic stories, the Vikram-Betal regular one. And in circulating libraries in Bangalore and Mysore, I found bound volumes of all old issues of this magazine going back decades! I would borrow those volumes, especially in my summer vacations, and get totally lost. I mostly read the classic issues in Kannada and the contemporary issues in English. In high school, when I learnt Sanskrit, I also bought the Sanskrit issues - it was utterly fascinating to read a magazine in this rare language!
Balamitra was clone of Chandamama and was out of publication by the time I started reading Chandamama. The only difference was that its illustration had less colors and its stories were a bit duller. I discovered it when I found classic issues in libraries and I read as much of them as I could.