Recently, two friends tagged me in Facebook, asking me to list ten books that are favorites. I chose to list ten books that influenced me quite a bit. In some cases they just happened to be books I read at a particular age. Hence, very influential; life changing perhaps. These are not necessarily the ten best books I have read or ten favorites, or ten I recommend to anyone. Just ten books that were landmarks in some way. A vast number of them are recent. It is quite possible, that I would have chosen ten different books ten years ago, and ten different books ten years from now.
The Facebook list were in no particular order. This list on my blog is chronological - from the first book I remember to the most recent book I read.
Anyway; here they are.
Garuda was the first comic book I read. I had visited my uncle and aunt in Pune for the summer vacation, and I was boarding the return train from Pune to Madras, for a looong journey. I was to be accompanied by my uncle's friends. But they were strangers to me, I wasnt sure how the nearly one and half day travel would go.
I must have looked or browsed at one of the comic books at a book stall on the platform, and my uncle Narasimhan (we always called him Babu periappa) bought me the Amar Chithra Katha comic - Garuda.
It was the first comic book I ever read. Until then I only knew of Garuda as the vaahana of Vishnu - from grandmothers' tales. I didnt know he was a hero on his own terms and a mighty one at that. I didnt even know he had a story.
And what a story it was!
I was riveted. Enchanted. Mesmerized. I must have read that comic book fifteen times on that trip. Kashyapa and Vinita came alive; the deception that led to his mother's enslavement, Garuda's outrage when he understood the backstory, his attempt to win back freedom for his mother more than himself, his attempt to retrieve Amrita, casual defeat of Indra's defenses and his hyperbolic listing of his own strength to an astounded Indra, all made a deep impression. The counter trick he plays on Nagas felt unfair, but on the whole seemed fitting karma for their own deception in the first place. His encounter with Vishnu, and the lesson he learns in humility sank in a lot later.
After that I read quite a few Amar Chitra Kathas (my father never bought me any comic book, unlike my uncle - he deemed it "bad for my studies"). A long and abiding passion for comic books was kindled by reading Garuda. ACK taught me a lot of Hindu mythology I would never have encountered otherwise, as grandmothers tales became fewer and fewer even in Mylapore. My mother told me some socialist stories, of farm worker duped or exploited by zamindars. Even though she was devoutly religious, I dont remember her telling me any puranic or mythological stories.
Amar Chitra Katha soon led to Indrajal Comics, the banner under with the stories of the Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician were published by Bennett Coleman. For the next three years, I would borrow a friend's comic book, About a year or two later, I joined a larger school where we could comic books in our school library. By seventh standard I had discovered Tintin and later Asterix, and shortly after that Superman and Batman, published by DC Comics. Then came Archie, Richie Rich, and the universe of comics around these characters. As delighted as I was by the ACK stories, the imagination, plotting, science, humor, ingenuity, art, future vision, ethics, and some of the detective skills displayed by Tintin or Batman never ceased to amaze me. All the great stories of India seemed to be in the long distant past, while America and the west were churning out absolute marvels of imagination, narration, and art.
My father rewarded me with a year's subscription of Indrajal comics, in eighth or ninth standard, as reward for coming first in class in mathematics. The year's subscription was Rs.64 (buying a year's books in stores would have cost Rs.96).
Indrajal, DC, Archie etc were stocked in local lending libraries (there was a famous Eswari library in Gopalapuram). Asterix and Tintin were rare finds - until one day, I got a rich friend who had the entire collection of both!
This was a stage in my life when my only other interest was cricket and street sports - I didn't like films, and never watched them until the tenth standard. I got a reputation as a good, studious boy among the elders, and a comic-book dork among kids my age. But that didn't bother me. I loved the comic books. I still read them. In the last few years of course, I have diversified my reading.
But my life long reading habit started with Garuda.
|My mother Pushpa, aunt Alamelu, uncle Narasimhan - in 1980. |
This uncle bought me Garuda