A hugger, a kisser, a storybook reader

When we were little, Ma gave me and my brother something of great value, and of little cost. A love of books. She didn’t buy us piles of them. She just sat there and read her own. So we got bored and did the same, and then we were never bored again.

My earliest memories of Ma involve half of her face poking out from behind a book. Quiet breathing, page turning, a scowl of concentration sitting above her nose. If she wasn’t cooking, or letting me know what she thought of my messy room, she was reading her Hemingways and Durrells, her le CarrΓ©s. Or handing me her battered copy of The Old Man and the Sea – probably to stop me reading another Barbara Cartland; I was sixteen.Β 

I grew up thinking this is what mothers do: they read.

And they did, too. D’s mother was no different. After I got married, I was suddenly surrounded by Bengali literature – of which she read everything from the modern to the classics. D remembers her always worrying when she approached the last pages of a book if she didn’t have another at hand to start on. Even in the years before her death, when she had trouble walking, she would stubbornly trudge to the local library at least once every week.

Books were how people passed an afternoon, an evening, a lifetime. There were fewer distractions, fewer people flicking their touchscreens.

I started reading to Chotto-ma before she was born. I read The Tale of Peter Rabbit loudly to my tummy every night through my pregnancy. It seemed perfectly logical at the time. Thankfully, D didn’t blink an eye, and by the time Chotto-ma was born, we both knew the story by heart. I read her poetry, I read her fiction – loud enough for her to kick inside me in response. A few days before Chotto-ma was born, I remember D walking in on me reading aloud Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, shaking his head at my choice of book. Wasn’t it a tad early for her, the ravages of a bloody civil-war?

She’s five now, and she loves books as much as she loves pancakes. D and I had made a few decisions early on – that we wouldn’t give her screens to play with. No iPads (we don’t own one), no iPhones, no laptops and certainly no video games. Yes, they’re tempting babysitters, especially when you’re bringing up a child without any family to give you a break, without a nanny to give you a breather. I’m sure we were sorely tempted, but I’m glad we held out. We now have a girl who’s utterly technologically challenged, but she has plenty of time to catch up with that. For now, she has a world inside her head bursting with stories, books to burrow into and leaves and twigs to bring home. That will do.

So, here’s a note to my mother: Apart from being a hugger and a kisser, thank god you were a reader, Ma. Amongst a hundred other reasons, I love you for that. For having me grow up with the smell of your old yellow books. You couldn’t have passed on a better gift.

Ma reading to Chotto-ma, summer of 2013.

33 thoughts on “A hugger, a kisser, a storybook reader

  1. Just beautiful!! I guess I grew up in the same way… piles of books, desh, pujo shonkha. There was no end, no dearth. Books were everywhere. By the chair, by the bed, on the window sill and then all over my bed where I would read. No never got bored ever. I read while I travelled to schools and colleges in public transport, standing. Now I see my girls doing the same. There is pleasure in telling them to go to bed when they are still reading late into the night…This is so precious that dida can read to chotto ma. I can see the wonder in her eyes. God bless.

  2. I love this post. Introducing me to books was the best thing my mom ever did. I wanted my little guy to enjoy the sheer magic of reading and falling in love with the book. I read all kinds of books to him, Peter rabbit is one of our favorites too. He fell in love with them and today when he begs me to read few more pages at bed time, my heart swells up with joy.

  3. How cute is the pic of Chotto- ma with her grandmum! I am very partial to beady- eyed babies (being big beady- eyed myself and having seen numerous baby cousins with said eyes) and so this pic of her is extra cute, to me.

  4. What a lovely heart warming post. πŸ™‚ esp loved the part where you say 'No screens' for your kiddo. In these times of tempting electronic gadgets all around us, it is quite a challenge to keep them away from the kids. Books are always and will be best companions ever.

  5. Utterly sweet. I am a reader and BigSis has always been one too, but now that she is a 5th grader, there are times, I have to take away books from her or often substitute her favorite genre “fiction” with ones she finds not that interesting!! LS was not much into books and insisted more on made up stories at night. Recently however she has been reading a whole load of books on her own and I am hoping slowly finding the joy in books
    Do share books CM reads so that we get suggestions for next library jaunt

  6. Soma, your picture is so true to mine – books everywhere. And sitting on the bed reading a book in the daytime is such an Indian thing, isn't it? πŸ™‚ It's always on sofas and armchairs here.
    It's lovely that you've passed on your love to your girls πŸ™‚

  7. Our little ones have Peter Rabbit in common, then!
    We've run through the whole series several times over, and she doesn't tire of them, from the Flopsy Bunnies to Tabitha Twitchit.
    I love the image of your little boy asking for a few more pages. The best thing to ask more of πŸ™‚

  8. Thanks Roxana πŸ™‚ When she was a baby, she was all eyes. Two big black curious eyes sitting on one tiny little face. .

  9. Soumya, I have a sneaky feeling you're doing a super duper job. Didn't I see something about a sleepover for 6-years-olds? *loud applause*
    And thank you.

  10. Siri, a challenge, yes. But once they know it's out of bounds, they find other things to do. A few days ago, after ages, we saw a family with two young children on the train, without phones or games in their hands. A two-hour train ride; the older brother read a book, the younger solved and resolved his Rubik's Cube at startling speed. It was such a pleasant change.

  11. I know of your love of books, Sandeepa, so I'm not surprised Big Sis and LS have taken to them like ducks to water! Your 5th grader sounds exactly like me when I was that age – who wants facts when you can have fiction, eh?
    And sharing book titles – I've been thinking of doing a post on books for little ones, tried and tested by Chotto-ma. So, I'm glad you mentioned it. Give me some time, and I'll put it together!

  12. There wre only a few books in our house as we grew up. We went to the library occasionally, but didn't know much more than to return to the same books we had read previously. I don't get to read as much as I'd like now too. For a few years in the middle, however, I read voraciously and adored and needed books — but more than that the thoughts and like feelings of others — so much. Today, it's a real joy to see my daughters around books. Reading them and now writing them too.

    Such a beautiful post, which seem to be the only ones you tend to write. lovely photos, too.

  13. I know what you mean, Matt. The need for books is always sharper at certain times, and at others, life takes over. I remember not having read a thing when my daughter was little – all my attention, emotion went into this little person; I had none left for books. Didn't need them, didn't miss them either. But it came back, and suddenly I had the time and space for them again.
    It's so lovely to know that Tilly and Bessie share your love of words – what joy that must bring you.

  14. Same here! In my case, I have seen my grandparents sitting side by side in companionable silence reading for hours. I feel exactly the same as you do about not exposing children to the high-tech gadgets and gizmos! I will do the same to my kids, when I have my own. Till date, in all the birthday parties I have attended of children (nephews, nieces, neighbourhood kids, et al) I have gifted only books hoping they would be addicted to the magical world of books. I have a question here: Given that most children these days are into TV, Smartphones, etc, what would you do if CM asks for those things when she sees her friends into those things?

  15. Hi there! My name is Heather and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer my question about your blog! Please email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com πŸ™‚

  16. Oh Pia…beautiful..simply darun πŸ™‚ i guess, when people ask ma why do i make Keya read a book everyday and my answer is always “cuz she will love books”..i am going the right way..aint i ?

  17. It is how I grew up: books books books. It is beautiful to read that not everyone is buying into the story that “screens are just part of our lives now”. Chotto-ma's eyes are much too bug to be filled by screens πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing and not making me feel like a “mad-stuck-in-a-deluded-percetpion-of the-past” person πŸ™‚

  18. You grew up well then, Afra. And sometimes I think that we need more people who're “mad-stuck-in-a-deluded-perception-of the-past” πŸ™‚

  19. Such a beautiful, warm post! πŸ™‚

    I am a very passionate book reader, but the husband is not. I would so love for our child to read, to pass on my books to him/her, to read to him/her, and to share book recommendations with him/her. Your post reinforces my belief that kids learn what their parents do, first and foremost. So, I'm going to make sure my kid/s see/s me reading and know the fact that I am enjoying it. πŸ™‚

  20. Pratirupa, first, congratulations on your wedding – I wish you many wonderful, interesting years ahead!
    Where your question is concerned, here's my two bits (I claim to be no parenting expert; we just do what feels right): With Chotto-ma, we've never laid down a rule without giving her a reason. For example, in our house, modern-day Disney is avoided. All her friends watch Disney, wear Disney, etc, but very early on, we explained to her why we didn't like the current Disney films. That it just had girls in dresses, acting princess-y, throwing tantrums, looking shy, batting their lashes, waiting for a boy (I could go on), and that these were old, boring stereotypes. We showed her a few Disney movies, and pointed out all the things that felt wrong (to us). We introduced her to other interesting movies, and she never asked for Disney again. And since she's never watched them, she doesn't find them interesting anymore. Now, if you give her a choice between Disney and a documentary on penguins, she'll choose the penguins every time.
    We'll hopefully be able to do the same with smartphones when the time comes. The one thing Chotto-ma knows is that our house has lots of freedom, but a few rules that don't match other people's rules. But that, the three of us (Chotto-ma, D and I) are friends first, so everything's discussed, explained and talked about.

  21. Yes, there's really no better way of doing it than by setting an example. With everything.
    Glad you liked the post πŸ™‚

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