Light, Chapter 9 of Memory, a novella
Written for Nanowrimo
We had left Boy, struggling to make sentences, lost in the labyrinth of the Queens tongue, and suddenly in the last chapter he is hunting through the classics for salacious passages. The awakening of libido can have extraordinary effects, but not quite to such miraculous levels. A curious reader who is patiently following the saga may be justifiably miffed at this bungling.
Actually it is the fault of memory, which leaps around through time and space like a performing flea, and skipped years at random. We will now try to drag him back and make him fill what gaps he can.
It all started with a birthday present in the form of a book, called the Mystery of the Invisible Thief. It was written by someone called Gnid Blyton, or so Boy thought. Struggling through it Boy was completely captivated. Little kids solving crimes that baffled adults, the banter among the children, the yummy sounding food they kept having, in all a new exciting world opened before his eyes. Solving mysteries through clues where the reader can participate in the problem was wonderful.
He soon exhausted the books by this writer in his class library, which to his disappointment was about weird toys and similar silly stuff, but Boy’s father bought him more, and got him more from a rental shop, when Boy seemed to go through them very fast. He discovered by now that the writer was a lady called Enid, and had many more stories about other kids, their pets, exciting adventures where the children got into serious trouble but escaped on their own, bringing villains to justice, exploring islands, tunnels, ruins, getting lost, having picnics, and generally having fun. The boarding school stories made him want to go to one.
This also gave him access to other books like Biggles, Billy Bunter, Jennings, Three Investigators, Hardy Boys, and others of varying merit. Boy wasn’t choosy, he devoured all. The racism of Bunter or Biggles or Sexism of Blyton didn’t bother him. In fact, he was in love with George, the tomboy.
Boy was in a peculiar situation. He could read English but could not speak it as it wasn’t the language at home. He could speak Bangla but couldn’t read it. This was the fate of most children of his circumstances. Soon, however, second language was introduced to his anglicised school. He was forced to go through a crash course in Bangla. This opened another magical world of the vast treasure house of children’s and young adult literature available in his mother tongue. Boy’s mother, a passionate reader herself, subscribed to all the children’s magazines and bequeathed her own childhood library to Boy. Sibram, Sukumar, Tenida and Ghanada became his daily companions. They had a major advantage over the English characters, as they lived in familiar circumstances and lived recognisable lives.
The other wonderful source of reading material came from the beautifully produced and extremely well written Russian children’s literature, and folk tales from around the world. His love for these stories, and familiarity with Russian names containing most of the alphabet, helped him plod through the Great Russian novelists when older. A wag claimed that other than Tolstoy himself and his proof reader, Boy was the only person to have attempted War and Peace.
Always a precocious kid, he soon started exploring his parents’ libraries. Boy’s father, seeing his obsession, had bought him a classics collection and a ten volume encyclopaedia, which kept him engrossed for hours.
Thus he was simultaneously reading Blyton and Dickens; Swift, Defoe and Perry Mason; Sukumar, Sibram and Saratchandra, Saradindu. Half understood, misunderstood, just devouring the printed word. It ruined his eyesight, his posture, his social life, and his report cards; basically did what any addiction does. But it opened a window in his life that lit it up and let in a gust of wind that blew out his blues, his fears, his loneliness, and gave him a fascinating new world.
Boy never recovered from this addiction, and paid the price for it, but it helped him recover from other worse addictions that had entrapped him while experimenting with consciousness in college.
Years later, a senior colleague once warned Boy
“You must not waste your life reading all this rubbish. You are a bright young man. Reading so much dulls the mind, and makes you sluggish.”
The cunning developed earlier in youth while hiding other even less socially accepted addictions stood him in good stead now, and he was careful to hide this embarrassing habit from his colleagues till such time as he himself reached a senior management position, and could set his own examples.
In his preteens, another lightning struck Boy. He discovered a book called Something Fresh. It hooked him from the first passage. It made him snort with laughter and caused major embarrassment. It was unputdownable.
He discovered a new magical world to escape to. This world was as fantastic as Tolkien’s, but much pleasanter. Wodehouse became his chief addiction now. He got thrown out of class for laughing out loud, while sneakily reading during lessons. It altered his language, and expanded his vocabulary to such an extent that years later, he could max the language part of CAT without trying.
He also discovered erotica. When his parents noticed that he was reading everything on the shelves, they did not apply any bans. Instead, they discreetly removed certain titles from the shelves. On noticing, Boy went on a hunt and found them nestling in the clothes cupboards. Intrigued, he investigated, and found a treasure trove of forbidden stuff.
The other source of such searing material was hiding in plain sight, in the form of translations from Sanskrit and Persian texts, Omar Khayyam, Kalidasa, Jaydev, Chandidas, and the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Quite by accident, in his insatiable search for stories, Boy stumbled upon these hidden gems. What was more, it was done in exquisite style. Thus it was that his emerging libido helped Boy get a thorough grounding in the classics, as well as earn him a reputation as a devout boy who read religious literature for fun.
This quest for stories took Boy to the next logical step, that of attempting to write some himself. But that we shall save for another day, for the patient and persistent reader.
Copyright(c) soumya mukherjee
Light, Chapter 9 of Memory, a novella