I have spent the last week turning out my collection of children's literature because I must have more space. I simply must or I will not be able to buy any more books. This is necessary to my existence — I work to support my book habit — but it is equally important to me to have books. So any weeding is a terrible thing.
I turned to the kiddie books because I have not read many of them for a fair while. Some, I thought, might now be dispensable. I must confess here that most of these books were not acquired when I was a child. I bought them when I was an adult.
As a child, I had access to the collection of Prabhat Circulating Library in Dadar and to the school cupboard libraries in Victoria High School, which in the 1970s did not have the room for a library and so simply stuck the books inside the class
cupboard. My parents did not think much of children buying books.
I remember yearning for my own copy of The Adventures of Mr Pinkwhistle. I could not imagine outgrowing it, as my father assured me I would.
I am glad I wasn’t allowed to own it now because I would have thrown it out. I know there are many people my age who can still read their Enid Blytons with much delight. The Magic Faraway Tree, for instance, seems to exercise a peculiar fascination over women in their 30s and 40s. I don’t buy into Blytonmania.
The books that were available were pretty awful. Both Prabhat and my school had very fixed notions of what kids were supposed to read. Besides the Blyton oeuvre, there was Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys (all written by the same hand) and the Bancroft Classics. That was it.
After then came the netherworld of comics which your parents would never let you buy. And The Book of Why and The Book of How which your parents would conscientiously buy for you, over which you would dutifully exclaim, and which you would then ignore forever.
And yet the internet tells me that Puffin was born in 1939 — next year it will be 70 years old — so why didn’t my parents get me those books? I think it was because they were all infected by Nehru.
The way forward was to be illuminated by fact. The new temples were the industries and the dams. (He did repent that remark later, not for anything, but only because he felt that we had been infected by gigantism.) We were all supposed to be desh ke nanhe munne sipaahis and the job of the parent was to equip us for careers in medicine or engineering or the civil service.
I am entitled
How could stories help? It had to be fact, hard cold clear fact, the number of moons around Jupiter, the invention of penicillin, the pre-digested encyclopaedia. Intelligence was associated with mathematics and science. If you could crack a quadratic, you could be excused for wanting to learn essays by heart for the examinations.
Today, when I see toddlers in bookstores, claiming the right to read, to own, to buy, I feel that the world has advanced substantially since the time of my youth. And so I put all my kiddie books back. I am entitled.