Growing up with Jo March, Harry Potter and D’ Artagnan

It is not that I don’t like kids. I like them well enough. I just don’t know what to do with them. Being 24, I remember what it was like, being a kid. But try as I may, I can not get into the heads of the enigmatic kids today. Frankly, they make me feel like a duffer. When I was a kid, I had a house set, a few dolls, books and that was that. A lot of time was spent day-dreaming. I had no idea how to play angry birds, and I certainly did not give adults a look of pity mixed with condescension when they failed to destroy the turtle nest (or whatever those fiendish creatures that steal the eggs of the birds are called). In school we used to play games like kit-kit when young, and this later became kho-kho for the more athletic kids. I personally just played dodge-ball (which is a bit of an insult to human intelligence). But it sufficed. Anyway, so when it falls to my lot to entertain the kids that come home to visit now and then, I am at a complete loss on how to entertain them. It usually ends with me letting them use the computer, much to the satisfaction of all parties. But I wonder if the kids today experience childhood the way I did. Am sure they do. What I have seen of life makes me think that there is nothing really new that people can experience. Its all the same wine in different colored bottles, or something like that. The point of this whole preface was really to talk about the books that I grew up with. The most interesting part of growing up was the books really. I firmly believe that the way in which I read and enjoyed books then, can never be replicated in the cynical age of adulthood. The genuine pleasure and involvement in the fates of characters, is something peculiar to childhood. (Though I still tend to get very involved in the books I read). The first memory I have of a book is a very distant one. It was about an old red fire engine, and how he was going to be replaced by a new one. This must have been when I was very young. Later, at the age of four, my Mother bought me an abridged version of Little Women. It was a tiny book, with beautiful illustrations of the March girls. Jo March obviously exercised a fascination over me, because she was the kind of girl I wanted to be. ‘When I grew up’. It’s funny how that phrase has never left my psyche. I still have things I want to do ‘when I grow up’. But interestingly, I really liked the little March sister Amy. I later found out that most Jo March fans hated Amy for being a spoilt and  entitled brat. Somehow, while I found that I had a lot in common with Jo’s sensibilities, I could relate to Amy (maybe it was the sense of entitlement). The next book I vividly remember was Alice in Wonderland. Actually, to be more precise, it was ‘Through the looking glass’ which impressed me far more than Alice in Wonderland. The white knight, tweedledum and tweedledee, humpty dumpty, have been lifelong friends, and I have never stopped revisiting that book. I don’t know whether when I read the book I understood all the political undertones, that gradually became clearer to me. But the beauty of great books (note: great books, not necessarily clever books) is that you change with them, and they change with you. I also remember when I was in class 3, I was given a copy of Oliver Twist as a prize. I remember asking my brother very quizzically, who this ‘Charlie’ Dickens was. I think it took him all the effort he could muster, to answer me with a straight face. Dickens soon became the pillar of my childhood. I have to say very emphatically that he is one of the greatest authors I have ever read. In this day and age, confessing to be a Dickens fan is like inviting trouble. Its not quite different enough, too mainstream perhaps. But the truth is that the greatness of Dickens lies in his ability to write incredible, riveting novels without any contrivances, manipulation or cynicism. Those to whom this sounds like a mean feat, I would like you to try. Somewhere later, I bumped into the phenomenon that was Harry Potter. Those books cast a spell on most kids (pun intended). A vivid memory of those books I have is that when I would buy a new Harry Potter book, I would spend several minutes smelling it! There was a very unique smell that the books had, which I came to associate with Harry Potter books, and which even now, when I get a whiff of it, makes me giddy. I don’t think I will be saying anything new if I tell you I spent a large part of the year when I turned 10/11 waiting for an owl. A big white owl even came to our house once. Sadly, there was no letter. In time the Harry Potter books grew darker and more complex, just as my world view did. The series finally ended when I was in college, with a close friend buying me the final copy. I still have bittersweet memories when I look at that copy, because it reminds me that college friendships, like fantasy fiction fascinations, pass. Like most things do. Perhaps that is why I dread reading Harry Potter again. I don’t want to stop liking it. I don’t think that this little walk down memory lane would be complete without me mentioning two men. Dumas and Karna. The Three Musketeers was a favorite book of mine while growing up. As much as I loved the Count of Monte Cristo and the Man in the Iron Mask, there was a heady and powerful feeling you got while reading the Three Musketeers. Whether, reading about the Cardinal writing out a Carte Blanche to the ‘lady’ or while reading about the Musketeers trying to recover the diamonds that the queen had given away to the Duke of Buckingham, the thrill of that book never leaves you. I read and re-read that book so many times (though at the time, I hardly knew how to pronounce the names correctly). It was much later that I learnt more about the political-context in which the book was written, and the crucial nature of the struggle for supremacy between the Church and the State. At that time the book was just about five brave men. The musketeers and the Cardinal. And here we come to the last milestone of the little walk I have taken you down. Karna, I am convinced was my first crush. I don’t think any man has actually made me go weak kneed before that. I actually spent a considerable part of my childhood reading Karna-related books, such as ‘Mrutunjaya’ by Shivaji Sawant, and ‘Karna ki atma katha’ by Manu Sharma. To me Karna was the perfect man, with his loyalty and his predilection to sacrifice. But wisdom dawned and I began to question this ‘ideal man’, as all ideals must ultimately be questioned. I realized that this was the same man who egged the Kauravas on, when they were trying to disrobe Draupadi, and that he ganged up with several other men to kill Abhimanyu (the boy-warrior). With age the realization comes, that your heroes have clay feet, just like you. But I must thank the reader who has made it this far on this rambling journey of mine. These recollections mean the world to me, and I might have succeeded in what I wanted to do, if (for a moment) I made you wear my shoes. That is all for today. Cheers!  


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