Growing up, my mother's rule was that "kadha pusthakams" were meant for the holidays - this rule was enforced after she caught me reading with a novel hidden inside my English Reader's Read book back when I was in the first standard. Before that, she had caught a book hidden in my backpack that I would sneak in to read while in class. So the rules were enforced and I would wait and wait and endure the long exams and the even longer bus ride from school to home on that last day of school. I would forgo the cake and the "Coca Cola" that school would give out as summer going away treats so I could be the first on the bus and hop impatiently from one foot to the other while the driver stopped (it would seem!) for 5 minutes at every stop. I would ask my bus driver to drop me off at the library on the last day and arrive home laden with atleast a dozen books. Most of these would be Enid Blytons. Sitting atop the neem tree outside our house, cool ocean breeze whipping my body, vadu manga in my hand, I could not believe the creatures she wove - elves and pixies, Big Ears and goblins and fairies and toadstools and toys that came alive in the nights, , toyland and golliwogs, tables that flew and magic spells and ointments and cats that sang and parrots that spoke, Moon-Face and Silky and old Sauceapan Man and Watzisname, children that took out boats into the sea and stayed in caves and tents, children that visited faraway lands and had friends in circuses and farms that made yellow butter . I remember her 8'o clock tales and the nine'o clock tales - tales of naughty Amelia Jane and tales of the Magic Faraway Tree, enormous in size and enormous in my memory. The Famous Fives and The Secret Sevens I used to read in the middle of the night, hiding under my blankets with a torch for my light, long after lights out had been ordered. Her food descriptions always set my tongue tingling, her "eating sardines out of the tin" and the "potatoes baked in their jackets with butter melting on them" always made me long for them and her description of the moors and the seas desperately made me wish I lived in Scotland. I fancied myself a detective after reading the different adventures of the Adventurous Four and wanted to go to a boarding school when I read Mallory Towers and St. Claires. Who could put down the Sea of Adventure or the River of Adventure and who could help but be enthralled as the 4 children and their irascible parrot dodged villains and waterfalls? Not I.
I have a copy of the Magic Faraway Tree and read it to my sons now. I still love the adventures but grown up and mature that I am now, I see in the book faults that my heart stops at finding - sexism is rampant in her books, although I think that is more a product of the times she lived in - when a man had his place and a woman hers. When I read the parts where the boys help out in the garden with the heavy work and the girls cook, keep house and empty closets for visiting cousins, I have to make an effort not to put the book away because I know that my sons when they grow up, will not remember these pages about the roles of men and women, but their heads will be filled with those enchanted lands above the cloud - that is what will stay with them. I dream of lands like that even now, where everything is right and good and fair and has ice-cream and cake for everyone, where the houses are made of gingerbread and everyone can have a party all the time. And for the lands where things are not so right? I can find a table, invert it, rub a spell and say "Fly away Home!", just like in her books.
5 weeks ago