The Curious Incident Of My Mom In The Daytime

Posted: July 10, 2014

Parents often give children their love of books. In this case, a daughter chronicles the story of her mother’s discovery of books.

My love affair with books is a gift from my parents. I cannot remember a time when my dad did not read out to me and when his fingers moving over the alphabets in those large pop-out fairy tale books became absorbed in my mind, for me to read on my own. As far as I can remember, all my birthdays, well-done-at-school presents, dad/mom out on office tour returning presents, have all always been books. One could easily say that my heritage was books and authors handed down from one generation to another.

My father has always been a bit of a scholar and a reader. At the university he was involved in student politics and from old records and stories, I know he was a popular leader, who read voraciously – fiction, history and politics (especially Marx and friends!)

To this date, Dad and I debate on Socialism vs. Democracy over family dinners. I know communism is dead….China does not count as a socialist state; but what can I say…like daughter like father …eccentricity runs in the family!

Even when he joined the foreign services, he kept up his reading habits and read everything from the newspaper to The New Yorker to Gorky. Considering all this, his marriage to my mum is kind of surprising. My dad’s family belongs to an old world family, in fact one of the oldest families of the city; a family that studied hard and believed in doing work for the greater good of mankind. My Mum was the quintessential uptown girl; my great grandfather, i.e. her grandfather was the man who made it big and the family wealth grew from that. There was not much in terms of culture and though everyone aspired for a summa cum laude degree, it was from the perspective of enabling the family status in society than the pursuit of real intellect or the finer questions of philosophy and mankind.

My mom was more or less true to her family leanings and though she was and remains an extremely strong woman, who has fought off many adversities in her life, when in her comfort zone, she would revert to her family traits of indulgence and acquisitive extravagance.

Given such a background, it was kind of surprising, that my mom encouraged my love of reading, writing and studies so much. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we did not have mammoth fights. She is a strong opinionated woman who unfortunately has raised a strong opinionated daughter! Woe is hers!) She never read out to me nor did she ever recommend a book I should read or buy. But she always gave me money to buy them and when away on office tours or other outings, she would always take a list of books that I would want her to buy.

She encouraged me to apply to some of the best universities and when I actually got through one of them, she was over the moon. Despite all this, reading was not for her and she would rather spend hours on end in the malls than browsing through books.

My mom retired from work about 5 years ago. I had already moved out of my parent’s place for some 8 years prior to this time to attend college and generally make my way into the world. My mom suddenly found herself with a lot of time on her hands; sure, she could cook and she did try cooking a lot of experimental stuff for which she never had time before. She also went out a lot and I do mean a lot with her sisters – mall hoping and shopping and movie watching. But still she found time on her hands.

Then one day, cleaning my old room, she stumbled on some of my old books – books which I had read and decided not to carry around as I trudged across the world. She started reading the back cover of a novel – I think it was Jeffrey Archer’s Where the Crow Flies; not much in terms of literature but a great yarn nevertheless. She read the back cover and then she ventured slowly and nervously into the first few chapters. It took her I think 20+ days to finish the novel.

She found it interesting, though tedious to plod through the whole 400 pages, but she was eager to find out what happened in the end. She then picked up a Sidney Sheldon and the master storyteller that he was, he kept her glued on until she found out how  Tracy Whitney finally escapes (If Tomorrow Comes).

She ventured into a few more such reading trysts. I was not aware of her forays into reading until she came to visit me the next year for a couple of weeks. I do not have crockery and I do not have furniture; hell! I do not even have a television. What I do have is books, books and more books. I found her tentatively and hesitantly reaching out to some of them and being unsure if she could read them.

On delving into the matter I found out that she had started reading but was kind of concerned that she might not comprehend some of my more supra intellectual books (I do not think I read supra intellectual stuff. I think most supra intellectual stuff ends in tragedies and I do not like tragedies!)

Anyhow, I was so floored with my mum’s efforts that I sought out some easy reads like Wilkie Collins and Somerset Maugham (Yes! I know different genres, but she was getting started and I wanted to introduce her to a wide range).

That was 5 years ago. Today my mum reads as much as I do and practically all the authors that I read, from Tolstoy to Iggulden to Bulgakov to Pratchett; the list can go on….she is not overly fond of Pratchetts or Rowlings but she loves Iggulden and Kaye and Peter Carey. Her own collection is rivalling my own and she has recently learnt the art of online shopping, so ordering books is now on her fingertips. She battles with me about the relative merits of one author versus another and has even started suggesting stuff that I should definitely read. This from a woman who until 5 years ago did not know anything beyond her graduate coursework of mandatory reading of Shakespeare and Dickens!

What impresses me the most about all of this is the fact that this woman, who so set in her ways and steeped into her family’s ways, had the immense courage and strength to take up something she had never done in her life at the age of 60. She was scared that works like Bulgakov would be beyond her intellectual capabilities, but she plodded on until she had mastered it all.

Hats off, Mum! May your reading be as adventurous and wonderful as your other life trysts!

First published at author’s blog.

Pic credit: Gabriela Pinto (Used under a CC license)

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