I grew up in a house where most of its inhabitants liked to read. I still remember those quiet, sunny afternoons in Santacruz (My first home) when I was first introduced to books. My dad, aunt and granddad used to be away at work, managing the family pre-press business, mum used to spend all her time putting in efforts to raise a decent human being and my grandmum used to take care of all the household chores. I used to attend morning school and as such would have the rest of the day to myself to do as I pleased. There were no other kids my age in the building where I lived, and my mother was my sole playmate and companion. As it happened, I developed an active imagination, created very real parallel worlds of my own and had a truckload of imaginary fairytale friends. Life was good.
What I particularly remember about that house in the afternoons, is my grandmother retiring to her room post lunch and settling down with a book from her big collection. She used to love English mysteries and suspense thrillers and would occasionally devour Bengali literature as well. My mother of course was further gone as a bibliophile. For as long as I can remember, the love of books has been ingrained into my mother’s very blood. And as is normal with most parents, she wanted to inculcate the reading habit in her one and only offspring as well.
She introduced me to all kinds of wonderful books which fuelled my already active imagination. Robinson Crusoe, Jules Verne’s Books, Little Women etc to brilliant imaginary worlds like OZ, wonderland and beautifully narrated fairytales as well as immortal fictional (but real to me) characters like Enid Blyton’s magic faraway tree and its inhabitants like moon face, Dame Washalot and watzisname. My love for magical creatures and worlds grew manifold since those very days and to my surprise continue to grow even after I have supoposedly grown up to become a “responsible” adult.
My mother of course soon realized my bias towards certain kinds of books dealing with ancient civilizations, alien abductions, conspiracy theories, paranormal phenomena, spirituality, children’s books with bright illustrations and certain Victorian classics (Pride and Prejudice types). She goaded me to read about many more varied topics, but I think somewhere she knew that my fascinations would lead me on a path I had already started paving for myself. However she continued to move me to read in her own unique way and one such effort I remember vividly. It’s when she made me the Bookworm.
It was a rotund two dimensional cardboard backed paper worm, a wriggly cute little fellow splotched with light and dark green patches, replete with spectacles which magnified his already big eyes, a big patch of white woolen hair on his round head and a big red two-toothed smile. She had spent a few days cutting out the shape, gluing, colouring etc and the end product was an absolutely brilliant bookmark. In fact it was one of my most prized possessions. My mother had taken care to give it a protective plastic coating too which made it last longer than my other things usually do (oops) and I remember treasuring the image of its woollen hair and encouraging face, sticking out of my books every now and then. I used to love to go back to a book just to get a glimpse of the Bookworm. That’s what I used to call him and I admit I wasn’t very original with the name. But somehow his name suited him just fine.
I don’t really remember when or where Bookworm disappeared from my radar, but I still remember him every time I open a book. I have had many many bookmarks since Bookworm, but none as original and encouraging as him. I guess its one of those pieces of the past (that I so often refer to) that make a solid mark on you when you are young and continue to remain important when you get older. He was alive, like all my other fairytale creatures and I think he spoke to me too. Read on Twinky, he said. Read on.