Reading has always fascinated me; it brought this huge world toffee apple right in front of me to be unwrapped layer by layer holding tightly onto its slender stick. And that I would do in any way it pleased me – sitting near the bhukhari on my woolly yak hide, saddled on a high bench in the front porch, comfortably upholstered in the ‘V’ of my favorite peach or willow tree and sometimes secluded among heaps of hay in the barn. In the winter, reading in the balcony with my back angled rightly to the sun was also one of my favorite spots. And in the summer, I would run in search of the best shade to flip my pages and enter a completely different world – a world of fantasy as much as reality.
As a young kid, I grew up watching my elder brothers involve themselves in binge reading in between the farm duties that a bucolic life in the village demands. Their out of the ordinary interest and passion for books created a conducive environment for me and before long I became a big fan of Tinkle Comics, Wisdom, Children’s Digest and Target magazine. I can still remember very clearly the days when my brothers would make me run errands for them, and in return I would ask for books to read. That much was my love for reading from a very tender beginning. And looking back, I am glad I began that way because it was the right way.
From a very humble Tinkle beginning, I switched my taste to books with thicker spines and longer plots. Novels fitted in seamlessly and during my academic break, I would become a silent and lone figure among the trees, bushes, meadows and prayer flags, completely absorbed, heart and soul into the spectacle woven by others; unfurling these romance, thrillers, humour and suspense at my own whim and fancy became my daily ritual.
And back to twinkling Tinkle, I must indeed be very thankful to Anand Pai AKA Uncle Pai, the founding father of Tinkle comics for indirectly providing me with a direct wholesome combination of education and entertainment. The characters from his ‘immortal picture stories’ became my best literary friends and my imagination and fantasy world revolved around them.
Today, some sixteen years after my maiden tryst with Tinkle, I would like to pay my tributes to the characters which were my best friends for a good part of my childhood years.
First Suppandi – the village simpleton who misreads his master’s commands leading to a chain of laughing-matter for the readers. He was one of my favorites and he had me wondering if he had had a brain in his head. Suppandi led me to name my high school principal Suppandi, not because he was Suppandi-like in brains but because he brought fond memories of Suppandi…some Suppandic connection between the two! No offence intended on either though.
Tantri the Mantri, the scheming minister, who never succeeds in his quest to depose Raja Hooja; in fact all his plans eventually boomerang. Towards the latter part of my reading days, I pitied him because he was that one guy who would just not give up. The proverbial ‘try and try, until you succeed’ never materializes here. Poor Tantri.
Kalia the Crow is another favorite. I closely followed this intelligent crow’s adventures which includes saving his friends Keechu and Meechu from Doob-doob the croc and Chamataka the Jackal. As a young kid, I would think of every crow as the savior Kalia despite the nuisances and menaces it caused at times.
Ajay, the detective was also a great read. The youngest and smartest detective in town is always there just in time to solve a mystery with the help of his mentor, inspector Sharma. Ajay and Sharma would later thrust themselves in the picture when I would read the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
How could I ever forget to mention Shikari Shambu. Shambu, a timid, blasé and sluggish hunter is often literally dragged by the villagers and his wife who believes that he is fearless and could take up daunting tasks. And providentially, he manages to survive and accomplish the task. I remember enacting Shambu – The Shikari scenes with my friends while out in the forest collecting firewood. Well, truly that Shikari has come a long way to tell tales.
I also deeply liked reading the adventures of Nasruddin Hodja, a witty man who outsmarts people. His character is actually based on the Turkish Mullah Nasreddin and it brought telltale signs of similarities with our own Ap Wang Drugay.
The adventures of Kapish, Ramu and Shamu, Inna, Minah, Mynah, Mo – all equally thrilling characters – also kept me reading and reading.
In retrospect, I owe each one of them a great deal for standing by me; for being my best friends through rain and shine and most precious of all, for leaving inside me an indelible thirst to read more.
So, dear friends, read and read because reading is much more than a pastime; it’s a friend of a lifetime, for you may leave a book behind but a book trails you like a shadow!