My childhood was spent between the pages of hundreds of books. My mother had to force me away from the book I was clutching so that I could do my daily chores, such as help set the table. Thank God for all those authors and illustrators who carried me off into a world of make-believe, letting me immerse myself into the lives of strange and wonderful characters with whom I could talk, whose stories I could extend, and who would always be my secret friends. In those faraway days, when I was growing up in the 1960s, it was not easy to find good books. I was fortunate to live in a big city called Bombay. Luckily, we used to have small, well-stocked circulating libraries nearby.
Enid Blyton was the hot favourite for girls when I was little, and I read every single book of hers I could find. By the age of six, I was reading the Malory Towers series, about the adventures of children in a boarding school. Before that I had read the Noddy books, and various comic books, like the Akbar- Birbal series. Remember, we grew up without TV, the Internet or mobile phones. But we did not know what the future would bring, and we were happy in our present. It was so much fun to walk down to the library, choose our books, pay the few paise of reading charges from the pocket money that our mother gave us, and come home to read, read and read. If we were lucky, we were allowed to buy a crunchy snack to add to the enjoyment. It was sheer bliss.
The habit of reading never goes away. It stays with you all your life. Books are always going to be your companions, your mentors, your entertainers and your teachers. The wisdom and humour of the whole world is at your fingertips when you can access good books.
Even when you are sick, a good book is like medicine to help you get better. When you cannot get away for a vacation, a travel book can transport you to your desired destination from an armchair.
When it seems like the world is against you, or nobody likes you, or when you feel you are failing, there are always books and stories to remind you that others have been in the same place as you are now, and things will get better.
Today the world has gone digital. You can read books on your phone, on your computer or on a shared digital device. Young people are now called digital citizens because they grew up with the Internet and smartphones and more. But a book is a book whether you read it on crisp new paper, old, crinkled sheets or on a screen. Hopefully, many young people will have both screen and paper to experience many ways of reading and sharing. Yes, books can be enjoyed alone, but can also be shared, must be talked about with others, such as in a book club.
There is an explosion of authors and titles for young children today. I almost wish I were a little girl again, to be able to read all the exciting books I see when I go to book shops.
In a way, I am experiencing that joy all over again. I am now blessed with a little grandson, who started enjoying books at the age of eight months. He needs to have several books read to him before he will fall asleep!
Many little children are not so lucky. Many of them have no access to books. Knowing this, I became Founder-Chairperson of Pratham Books in 2004. We set out to publish attractive, affordable books for children in many languages, so that all of India’s children could share the same joy of reading that I had discovered. Till date, Pratham Books has created hundreds of books, and millions of children have read them, as printed books or as free books online. I hope you have read some too, and liked them. Nothing would be more satisfying than to hear that!
For every child, I have a wish. I hope you find great books that you will love to read again and again. I hope you meet characters who become your special companions. I hope you will always find good teachers and friends who share your love of reading.