I caught my eleven year old nephew browsing the web and I asked him,
“What are you up to?”
He said, “I am researching on Tamil freedom fighters on ‘why-kee-peedia’. For an essay?”
I was impressed. When I was his age, I had to rely on the government library in Greamspet, Chittoor, for research. The wiry, old librarian was a hostile man. He walked about in those cramped corridors between bookshelves, his shoulders hunched over and his eyes roving: we stole half the books within a week of the opening of the library. The modus-operandi was simple. Pick a book of your fancy, check if anyone’s watching, if no one was, tuck the book under your shirt. And, walk s..l..o..w..l..y. That rule is the same I guess: for shoplifting, bank robbery, and running away from eateries without paying the bill. You always walked out calm and composed.
As time wore on I realised the importance of a library and how it could help me in my projects. So I stopped stealing books from libraries. Other than research, I chanced upon classics like Alex Hailey’s Roots, Melville’s Moby-Dick. The catch was that they were all Telugu translations. I didn’t regret it though. I spent hours reading in the library. Now, I am not one of those ‘well read’ ‘I-can-quote-Kafka’ kind of a ‘well read’ guy. I read for fun. I read action, adventure, and stuff. And I read like a maniac.
My mom used to send me to the market to buy provisions or coffee. Those days they never used plastic covers: You walked into Anji Shetty’s store and asked for say, half a kilo of moong dal. He packed it in a paper from a magazine or sometimes when you’re lucky, a sheet from a Telugu novel. The cone shaped parcel was bound by Twine. Remember those huge twine globes hanging in old stores? They tugged the loose end and deftly wrapped your parcel, and snapped the Twine in one clean move? I used take that parcel home and wait for mom to unpack the parcel (“Don’t tear the paper! Just undo the Twine!!”) and grabbed that paper, sat down in the hall read it as if my life depended on it. I put together a collection of Telugu short stories that way, thanks to Anji Shetty’s store.
I tore myself away from my reverie and noticed that my nephew was making notes. I didn’t want to disturb him but I had a couple of questions.
“So you are interested in reading and writing about stuff like this?”
He said “Hmmmm? Interes…. I don’t know?” and continued making notes. I could sense it. He wanted to say ‘Why don’t you buzz off?’ I decided to push it. What the heck, as a kid, I had to bear with quite a few nosy morons. ‘It is payback time buddy.’ I thought. Also, I wanted to know what kind of reading my nephew did. Mark Twain? Crusoe? Nancy Friday?
“You don’t read books? I mean you could go to the library and read about the freedom fighters… they have a lot of books…”
He stared at me and I could almost read his thoughts again. He said “But why!? I get that information on why-kee-pedia!” And, the first prize is only a 1000 Rupees! Who wants to walk to the library for 1000 Rupees!”