My Journey

Where do I begin? For as long as I remember I have always wanted to write. I guess the journey begins from reading books at an early age. I have been a voracious reader as a child. I began by reading comics like Tintin and Asterix while also devouring the weekly dose of Tinkle, Archie and Superhero comics (Batman, The Green Lantern and Spiderman in particular).

My mum and pops indulged in my habit and encouraged me to keep reading. By the time I turned eight I had read children's classics versions of Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist, Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities andThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I soon moved on to Ukrainian Tales (A hardbound 500+ pages collection of short stories) which Pops picked up for me.

I was also privileged to have a membership in two libraries close to home. At the end of every week my Mum or Pops would take me down to one or both libraries to borrow books in which I would lose myself all weekend. My Mum also brought me books which she believed I should read from her school's library where she was a member starting with the full range of Noddy books at the age of five; Aesop's Fables a year later and the classics like Robinson Crusoe a couple of years after that. I would finish reading my English Literature text book on the day when all text books were given out, a week prior to the start of a school year. After finishing this I would go and borrow my cousin Ibrahim's (three years older in the same school) text book and finish this too. Often my brother and I went over to our cousin - Roshini Anand's home to play or watch cassettes of animated films. I remember spending most of my time in front of her bookshelf, taking out one book after another and finishing it end to end. 

Pops would take us to the hairdresser's every fortnight as he believed that if my brother and I had shorter closely cropped hair we would be less naughty. A mistaken belief as the complaints from neighbours and teachers continued pouring in. I sometimes think it was a plot by my parents and Dadi to get my brother and me out of the house every other Sunday morning so that they could have some peace and quiet. Anyway, even here I was accompanied by a loyal friend - my book - recently bought or borrowed from the library. I remember reading the Adventures of Robin Hood, a 200+ pages book one morning from end to end while some people fell asleep, some read old editions of Filmfare and my brother got up to his usual tricks (vandalism or making faces and funny gestures at others while imitating them or giving them nicknames) in the hairdresser's waiting room. Thanks to him we had to change four or five hairdressers while we were kids as after a few weeks of tolerating us the hairdresser would refuse to take in my brother or me if we were unaccompanied by our Pops.

My Nani and Mum would also take us to another library (where my uncle was a member) in Commercial Street, when my brother and I the two imps in the family accompanied them on weekly shopping expeditions. To avoid the embarrassment of having the two of us bring the house down in every store we entered they would leave us at my Nana's shop - he was the General Manager of Raymond's (a post retirement job to keep him busy in his cousin brother's store). My Nana was one of the finest gentlemen one could meet. He was part nationalist in his ideas and beliefs having grown up during times when we were colonised and part English in his mannerisms, his dressing style and the way he articulated himself. To my brother, the posh and opulent store Nana managed was his Disneyland. He opened all the drawers on Nana's table and tried scribbling with all the pens and pencils he could get his hands on when he wasn't running around the marble floored store from one end to another, hiding in the dressing room or playing jester to salesmen who were entertained by his antics.

My Nana was gentle in every sense but was also known to be a firm father and stickler for discipline. His disapproving eye and slight frown which could quickly make his own children and people who worked for him fall in line, could manage little beyond a faint smile and pretended to ignore my brother's impish behaviour. Sometimes I'm sure Nana felt ill at ease but managed to smile, this is the quality time he got to spend with his only grandchildren growing up in Bangalore. He was in fact charmed by the little brat 'Ali Baba' and me - the reticent mischief maker (the source of ideas and encouragement for Ali's pranks) whose visit to the store is something I'm sure he waited for every other weekend. I would sit next to him lost in my book which in all likelihood was an Archie or Superhero comic or later Famous Five or the Hardy Boysseries. Customers or other store managers he knew would stop by for a chat and ask him - "Is this your grandson?"

He would nod with pride and his slight smile and would gently tell me - "Beta, say hello to uncle."

I would look up in deference and mumble a "hello uncle," with a look of 'please don't disturb' on my face to which my Nana would add, "He loves to read. He is just like I was when I was a kid."

I still remember my wish to Pops when at the age of six I was told that I have measles and I would need to stay in bed for a couple of weeks. Pops asked me with affection, "Tell me anything you want. I'll go and get it for you."

"I want 'To Riverdale and back again', the libraries don't have it, neither do my friends. But I saw the book in Gangarams when we went shopping there with Mum for my textbooks," I said playing spoilt brat as usual. 

Pops came back with the book an hour later. He managed to pick up one of the last copies in the bookshop. It's an evening I still remember. This was a rare novel in comic book format, a limited release; one which very few came across or even knew about. I remember going back to school weeks later and telling my friends I know what happens to Archie, Veronica and Betty many years after they leave Riverdale. My much treasured book was stolen a few weeks later when I took it to show it off to friends and classmates. That's the last I saw of it, the loss of which made me sulk for days. 

On my trips to the library with my Mum or Pops, the portly librarian would smile at me broadly as he saw me enter. He would reach in to a draw and pull out the latest Archie comics and later the latest Agatha Christie, Jeffery Archer or John Grisham novels. "Here Ahmed Sait, these are the latest books for you," he would say with his portly grin.

Sometimes he would look at me like he had failed me or had done something wrong when he had no new book for me or on days when I had to browse through each and every shelf, my eyes scanning through dusted copies of books to find an interesting story which I was yet to read.

My frail Dadi would tell us magical stories from the yore (stories of angels, kings and queens, battles and demons) on evenings when my parents went out (once or twice a week). This was her desperate attempt to quieten us down and prevent a World War III like situation between me and my brother. Sometimes she would forget the story if we interrupted a lot and asked her many questions as we often did. Later, after we grew a couple of years older we would sit and read stories from Tinkle and translate these for her. She could barely see at this age and wore her glasses only when she went visiting my Aunts or other relatives. Like me she had an insatiable thirst for new stories as well. In fact she would first borrow my copy of the comic to try and understand the story from the illustrations. Both of us would wait for my subscribed copy to be delivered every fortnight.

Why have I written all this? I wouldn't have written a book if I didn't have the people I did in my life. My grandparents and parents who loved me unconditionally and told me stories or bought me books or took me to places where I could borrow them to satisfy my unquenched thirst for more stories from a world I did not know. This is where my journey began...these are possibly my first influences...the people who nurtured my love for reading. I believe the genes of my parents and grandparents in me is what makes me write and makes me read voraciously (much to the dismay of my suffering wife). Like me they read a lot (or in my Dadi, Nana and my Pop's case they used to). 

My Mum reads any book which can move her to tears (the Mitch Albom, Khaled Hosseni and 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' variety) when she gets time from horrid and regressive television soap operas which move her to tears (quite unnecessarily in my opinion). The tradition of reading and writing continues in the family with my wife being the newest member who has joined the fray. I often see her writing in her diary. I'm not sure what she writes as most of her writing happens after she and I argue over something ;) 

Want to be an Author?

Well if you believe that there is a writer in you and it's time to get started, here are some links which might help. These are sensible words and tips from people who know better and have done it themselves. Again these aren't steps or advice that I followed or wish for you to follow. I find it very difficult to write up or compile lists of what to do and what not to do. You would find a lot of material worth referencing online. Read all of this as opinion and suggestions and maybe you'll find something that helps or maybe you'll find your own path like I did.

Writing your first novel by Victory Crane 
Complete your first book... by Dumb Little Man - Tips for Life 
So you want to write a novel? By Robert Twigger on the First Post 

Karan Bajaj, a talented and intelligent storyteller in my opinion has offered some sensible advice on getting a book published in India. Stop by at www.karanbajaj.com to read his useful and valid opinion (in hindsight good advice based on my own experience). 

I don't have anything more to say but - try and read my book if it interests you or read some other book that does. But do read and encourage others to do so - it is the only gift we as humans have which can inspire us, entertain us, which we can cherish and immerse ourselves into like nothing else. The right kind of books can make us more aware, more knowledgeable; help us escape from a dreary and mundane existence for a little while in a world more exciting. They have been my constant companion through adolescence, my first crush, my initial failure to clear CA Final exams, the years in SIBM where high paying jobs was a focus for many, through falling in love for the first time and dealing with heartbreak or getting over a failed romance; through dealing with the loss of a loved one or coming to terms with life and getting used to people in a new city where I am away from the people I love (as I often have been time and again for the past six years).

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