Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Mother passes on her love for reading

By Shevlin Sebastian

My mother was only 18 years old when she got married in Kerala and went to live with my father in Kolkata. Since it was a new place, it was not surprising that she was taken aback by the culture, food, language and customs. And she struggled to adjust.

During the day when my father went to work, my mother felt lonely. And that was when she picked up her first paperback from a shelf of books on my father’s table.

And my mother never stopped reading ever since.

One of my most vivid memories of my childhood was to see my mother with her nose in a book. I must have been five at that time. It seemed to me a pleasurable activity, because my mother had a peaceful look on her face.

But, recently, my mother, while reminiscing about my childhood, gave me another image. When I was a one-year-old baby, she would sit on an armchair, place me on her lap, and read the newspaper. So, as a tiny tot, I would stare at print for several minutes every day.

It would have been a soothing moment for me: leaning against my mother I could probably feel her heartbeat. And then there was this pleasant silence, punctuated now and then by the rustle of the pages as it was being turned.

My mother said, “You were the perfect baby. You never cried or made a fuss. In fact, once you went to sleep at 7 p.m., you would only awaken at 7 a.m. So I could safely leave you with the maid and go for a night show with your father.”

When I was seven or eight years old, we went for holidays to Kerala and spent time in my grandparents’ house at Muvattupuzha.

My grandfather suffered from glaucoma and could not see. But he was always keen to know the news. So my mother would sit next to him and read the entire newspaper: from snippets, to local news, editorials, national and international reports, and on to the sports pages.

I would sit next to my mother and listen to her. The entire exercise took about 50 minutes.

Is it any wonder that, with this sort of background, I became a voracious reader, as well as a print journalist?

I have spent many hours in libraries at Kolkata, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Kochi. I enjoyed the meditative silence that was present in reading rooms. Nobody disturbed you. You sat alone, with the magazine and your thoughts. The cacophony that characterised life in India was kept outside the room, more so, if it was an air-conditioned hall like the United States Information Service library in Kolkata.

Perhaps this activity was also an unconscious reminder of the time I spent with my mother, enjoying her love and companionship.

Today, at 78, my mother no longer reads books, but is an avid reader of newspapers. I still devour magazines, newspapers, books, and do relentless reading on the Internet.

And my children, a boy and a girl, are picking up the habit. Both are keen readers, but my daughter prefers to read on the Kindle.

Time goes on, but I silently thank my mother for this wonderful gift of reading that she has passed on to me… and future generations.

(Published as a 'middle' in The New Indian Express, South Indian edition)

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