A friend reminded me, after my last post how she had been a part of my reading escapades in school. I took a long trip back into childhood and had an epiphany – that my closest friendships have always been with readers.
As I let nostalgia take me on a ride down to my early years of pre-primary and primary in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I gazed with wonder at Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, Huckleberry Finn, Dicken’s and a dozen others scattered over my bed. With it came the memory of my first ‘bosom’ friend, Nanda D Gurbani she was to me what Diana was to Anne of Green Gables. Petit and pretty and oh so perfect. Malory Towers and St Claire’s made us Sigh for boarding school and our exasperated parents complied. She was packed off to MGD in Jaipur and I equally unceremoniously waved off to Welhams, Dehradun. With impressive promises and fervent oaths we hoped to keep in touch and then faced with the vagaries of the postal system lost touch forever. I name her here since I do hope there is someone reading it here who will put me in touch with her again.
My first night at boarding school is when I met a minx with a ropes of curls, who I will forever address with her surname and never with her given one. She and I bonded over thousands of pages of adventure and misadventure, classics and non-classics. Both of us would be placed together in dorm after dorm till we parted after the 10th grade. We would exchange books and read them by torchlight, sweating under the covers of our uninspiring counterpanes. After a hiatus of college, marriage and kids we were united by Facebook many years later to my delight.
During the Welham years, there were two more with whom I forged bonds over books that last till today. With one I was her partner in crime. We hid the books we wanted to read from others behind obscure titles in the school library. We borrowed for ourselves and shared with each other, breaking rules of asking the owners before further sharing their books. But, then loyalty was always towards each other and no one else. We coerced relatives and friends with well-worded letters about the horrible loneliness of boarding school, and how the mentioned title would relieve us of it somewhat. Some of our letters were heeded and some sadly went to unsympathetic postees. The one or two books that did trickle in managed to find their senders places of fondness in our hearts till they too turned unsympathetic and were relegated to the dark recesses of a hurt child’s psyche, never to trust such adults again. We read and read, then discussed each book to shreds – dismayed at a character’s sorrows and jubliant at their fortunes.
Then there was the other friend, a delightful cuddle on whose lap I put my head and we read the great romances – Gone With The Wind, Far Pavilions, Thorn Birds; the sagas of Sheldon, Archer, Segal, Steele. A quirk she had which I never understood – reading the end of the book first!! Sacrilege, if there was any term for it! The anticipation of the end is always the most exciting part of the read, I debated. With the coolness that to her was second nature she bothered not to respond. I still have never ever tried to read an end before the rest of a story. The magic would be lost and I still wonder at her. The eternal romantic she found treasures we read, my head on her lap – one book in her hand and another in mine.
School ended and college began. Another girl became my concomitant to the bookstores in the neighbourhood. We shared the same name in addition to a quirkiness of the mind. We bonded over the stories we read and defied the seriousness of the world, laughter rang out and continues to over the love for books and the ridiculousness of the world. She is the one who brings out the ‘stupid’ in me and makes me realise that solemnity is actually a vice. To her I owe in friendship more, in madness even more.
There came a long period of lull, in which I read rather alone. Then came along a group so Drunk-on-books, sobriety suits them not. We read the woes of the world, dissect each aspect of writing and debate loudly on the author’s voice. We eat and drink with the passion we reserve only for the venerated written word. We each bring into the discussion a viewpoint that another has not thought of, a perspective brought on from another way of life. Each book we read and discuss enriches the experience of looking at it through multifarious lenses. The women in this group are erudite warriors whose reading choices make me break out of my comfort zone to read books I would never have picked up otherwise. They are also my biggest support system and champions.
Another group that enriches my reading experiences is one of women who live around me. Rocking grandmothers who redefine the maxims of age and women of my age who rewrite the expectations of stereotypes make up this sapient group. Again the discussions are designed well and structured to be deep and meaningful. A different experience which releases wisdom from the written words of so many authors stimulates my intellect. With laughter and encouragement the group grows, with love and companionship we support.
Quoting PG Wodehouse to end this post, “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” And I have beautiful friends to share not only literature with, but my life with, too.