Anupama Kondayya is a Bangalore-based business analyst with a deep-rooted passion for books, writing, traveling, music and photography, among other things. A warm, friendly, extremely talented but humble person, she has contributed features to several well-known websites, one among them being the travel website The India Tube. She is a regular contributor to the Chicken Soup For The Soul series.
Anupama aka Anu, being the sweet person that she is, readily accepted when I asked her to do a guest post on my blog. She chose to write about one of her passions – reading; to be precise, how she has evolved as a reader. She blogs at I think, Therefore I am Anupama.
I hope you find her story as beautiful, touching and inspiring as I did.
I Read, Therefore I Am
It was a copy of a book called Astronomy, published by Piccolo Books and bought at an AH Wheeler, that I first considered my own. I didn’t give anyone a choice after I scribbled on the face of the moon with my father’s Luxor pen. It was mine for keeps. And the moon is where I started my journey.
As a child, I had quite a few storybooks to read (or scribble on, as the case may be. Those became the first books in my library. I remember well a copy of the book ‘The Camel and The Pig’ with a bright yellow cover and the book ‘The Golden Apple’ from those days. Graffiti was spread liberally in these books by yours truly, a curious 5-odd year old. In fact, the golden apple had been coloured blue on one of the pages. That is how my love affair with books began…imaginatively.
A little older and I had my tryst with a few storybooks that my uncle had either gifted to me or had in his collection. There was a book with tales from Indian Mythology. A telling feature of that book was that all the drawings were cubist in nature, now that I think about it. It just may have been a subconscious introduction to art as well. Then there was another book with Asian folk tales. Stories from China, Japan, Korea…lands I had seen only in Geography books thus far were brought alive in the pages of that book and it may have been where wanderlust stemmed from. There also was a set of books where there were stories from Swami Vivekananda’s. Another set of books had the Mahabharata laid out in sketches. I cherish all those books more than most things from my childhood.
A peculiar thing to have happened at the same time was that my uncle visited Chennai and bought books published by the National Geographic Society…a good 8 or 9 hardbound beauties on various subjects. They became staple diet for me. I would wait to go to my grandmother’s house and devour these books. Two of them were about wildlife. I pretty much knew every page after a year or so. Another of them was called ‘Fun With Physics’ and I loved looking at the pictures where they explained occurrences of physical laws in the world around us. Those books opened up my mind in a way I couldn’t have fathomed and I am still very thankful they came my way. Years later, I casually carried the copy of ‘Fun With Physics’ home to my library and I think that’s where it is now.
Soon I started growing warm to classics, of which we had quite a few at home. Others came in wrapped colourfully at each Annual Prize Distribution in school. I remember reading ‘Mother’ by Pearl. S. Buck around then and loving it to the core. It still is one of the best books I have ever read. There was Treasure Island; I still remember how I used to get goose bumps while reading that book for Stevenson had done a brilliant job of description in the book. I can still imagine that dark night and the pirate with one leg and the sound of ‘Ho ho ho and a bottle of rum’ resounding in the air even as the waves lashed against the cliff. He was a master of the craft. Then there was A Tale Of Two Cities, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe…the keepers of the language came into my life during the most formative years and enriched me.
On one of my birthdays during those days, my uncle presented me with a beautiful hardbound copy of The Mystery Of The Disappearing Cat…I still remember the pale green coloured cover and how precious I felt holding it in my hand. I pretty much did a bottom’s up with the story, gulping it down in record time and thus began a period of reading Enid Blyton. My uncle bought loads of used copies of Enid Blyton’s books and I read them all, some twice or thrice. My favourite to this day is the Ring O’ Bells Mystery…the feeling it would give me to read that story!
Then I moved on to Junior college and grew out of old clothes and Enid Blyton. And for the Christmas of my first year in Junior college, my friend gifted me with a copy of Chicken Soup For The Teenage Soul Part II. The courier dropped it off early in the afternoon and I had finished reading the book by that midnight. I just couldn’t put it down! I cried while reading most stories and grew insanely fond of that book. I dreamt of writing for the series someday, a dream God has been most kind to fulfil, among others. It was a life-defining event in the sense of discovering my love for people-stories…one that remains with me to this day.
That was also the time I was introduced to Pot-Boilers…Jeffrey Archer, Robin Cook, John Grisham…somehow I never really took to those very well. I did enjoy Robin Cook for it pandered to my love of Biology…but even so, it didn’t last.
I floated among other genres during my engineering college days…I used to pick up books indiscriminately from a library close to home in Nagpur. It was the time I was studying in a Regional College (now the NITs) and my friends from other parts of the country brought in their knowledge that I was only too happy to absorb. Based on their recommendations I read Animal Farm, The God Of Small Things, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull among others. Sometimes I would pick up books on a whim from those shelves…Speedpost, Tuesdays With Morrie, a lot of management books…anything I could lay my hands on. The pattern of exposure I had had in my past had left me with a taste for anything and everything when it came to books and I wasn’t complaining.
That indiscriminate pattern of reading continues to this day. Sometimes I feel like living off the land (Into The Wild), sometimes like climbing the Everest (Into This Ice), like voyaging across oceans at others (Kon Tiki)…sometimes I want to know what dying by ALS must have felt like (Tuesdays With Morrie) or pancreatic cancer (The Last Lecture) or even surviving one of those and fighting on (It’s Not About The Bike: My Journey Back To Life)…there are nights when I want to hear a well told story (RK Narayan) or even some gossip (Shobhaa De’)…it all enriches my life in ways indescribable and makes me more of the person I am as I try to assimilate the experiences I read about.
It’s as if my bookshelf were the wardrobe and every world that those books bring to life, a Narnia…a new story every time and a new lifetime to live through those pages. All I have to do is open the door…
Anu’s list of all-time favourite books:
1. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
2. The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger
3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. The Mother by Pearl Buck
5. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
6. Speedpost by Shobha De
7. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
8. Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald
9. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
10. God’s Debris by Scott Adams