Baiji (Typical Punjabi word for Father) introduced me to the world of books when I was in government primary school near Rajputana Rifle Centre, Delhi Cantonment. Every morning I used to go with Baiji or Pritam (my elder brother) on a cycle to school from Hari Nagar. After school was over, I had to wait for Pritam to get back home.
I used to go to the army unit of Baiji. He will advise me to go to the library and do my homework. Once that was over, the librarian used to allow me to read books. It was wonderful to have access to so many books. I read almost all the books except the big and boring books. This love affair with the books of that time is still on!
The books in the library were mostly about armed forces, stories of their valor, how our soldiers got their Vir Chakras, Mahavir Chakras and Paramvir Chakras. Also, there were inspirational stories based on our scriptures and mythology. It opened a fascinating window to the world and soon I was immersed in the books.
The fact that we did not have any money to buy books, periodicals, or novels did not deter me to think of not reading/collecting books. I was confident that one day I will be collecting books from different sources with minimal resources and proudly display them. During these forays into the world of books and comics, I came across ‘Phantom’, ‘Vetal’, ‘mandrake, and many similar genres. Captain Vinod, Hamid, Iqbal, and such other detectives were my heroes.
I started collecting these comics and few novels. I used to purchase them from Kabadi, old booksellers at Tilak Nagar, and from few shops renting books and selling very old issues just for few paise. It will be very difficult for our next generation to believe that with my limited finances, I could amass a trunkful of these comics!
Let me admit my source of money to buy these comics. Usually, in the evening I was sent to get vegetables from the market. The vegetables were cheap in Hari Nagar but I came to know that the vegetable market near the Delhi Cantt Railway Station is cheaper! Either on Baiji’s Hercules cycle or on foot, I used to go there to buy vegetables and save few paise for myself! This ill-gotten money was spent to buy second-hand comics or Reader’s Digest @30 paise per issue from bookstall at Cantt Railway Station. Illustrated Weekly again @30 paise per edition, edited by Khushwant Singh was also purchased by me.
Purchasing the vegetables for a guest or for a special occasion allowed, me to pinch few more paise. Bebe (Mother in Punjabi) was always asking questions that how few vegetables were suddenly costlier and my reply was always that it is seasonal fluctuation and she could check in the local market!
Our next generation is ordering food, books, gadgets, and a lot of non-essential things on their mobile, I feel pity for them. Compulsive buying is a sign of depression and the lure of ‘brand name’ is what makes them spend more than they can afford.
Every quarter of the year, when we had to deposit school fees or college fees, we used to request Baiji to get his income certificate from his unit in the Army. The certificate always said, his per month salary as Rs.165 per month (1972-75), and based on this certificate, I deposited Rs.0.50 per month in school and Rs. 10.50 per month in college. It was the same for all of us during our schooling and college days. Despite these hardships, with the blessings of Baiji and Bebe, I could pursue my love for books and my post-graduation from Hans Raj College, University of Delhi, in Geology. This says about the great efforts of my parents.
Baiji and Bebe Ji could only sign their name and nothing else. My parents went through major hardships, to realize their dreams, that all of their sons get a good education and become officers! They achieved this dream with extreme success.
With fancy cars, motorcycles, houses, business or practices, and discussions on Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram, and many more gadgets or apps, we have lost that touch with each other, and especially with books. In the Whatsapp group, how many books are discussed?
With God”s grace, today I am having my personal library room with approximately 5000 books, with titles like”Complete set of Osho”, Khuswant Singh, novels written by Herman Hesse, John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway, Amish Tripathi, and so on.
I support reading books. I will advise to all to buy books or download free on laptops, kindle, smartphones, but love and read books.
Thanks for reading this.
Paramjit Singh IFS