I joined Hari Nagar Government Middle School in Class VI (1968) after passing out from Delhi Cantonment Primary School. It was summer vacation time and I utilized this time to learn Punjabi. We had a library period every day after summer vacations.
In the library period, our librarian Madam pointed to a small bookshelf with few books and told us to read them and she threatened us with punishment if we damaged the books. I looked at the books and after reading the titles realized that I had read all those books in the Rajputana Rifles library. I approached Madam with a request to open another bookshelf so that I can read another book. Her response was two resounding slaps with the choicest accusations about my reading abilities and untruthfulness! I was humiliated in front of the whole class and could not read any book.
In the evening, bai ji, bebe ji (In Punjabi, it refers to father and mother), and my elder brother, Col. Charan Singh (at that time 2nd lieutenant from IMA) looked at my tear-streaked face and asked me the reason. I narrated the whole incident. Baiji asked my brother to do something about this injustice as baiji was a witness to my voracious reading in the library of Rajputana Rifles. Baiji asked me repeatedly whether I was sure that I had read those books! My reply was an emphatic yes and I added that, on reading the title of a book, I will tell the whole story and incidents mentioned in the book.
Col.Charan Singh was also surprised on hearing this. His army training took over and he warned me that if I failed to tell about the story of the books, he will thrash me all the way from the library to our home! The pact was signed and he agreed to come to my school in the last period, which was marked for the library.
The next day our last class was in the library and I was anxiously looking at the door. After a few minutes, a smart person of six feet height and exuding authority enters the library. I was happy to see that Col. Charan Singh has arrived to explain things and try to settle the issue. Wearily, I approached Madam and told her that he is my elder brother and wants to talk to her regarding yesterday’s incident. Looking at the Madam’s anxious face, I could make out that henceforth I will always be a victim of her anger.
My brother explained to her that for the past five years, Param Jit Singh was a student in a primary school near Rajputana Rifles and every school day, he spent four to five hours in the library reading books. Madam still could not believe this! Then my brother explained to her the challenge I had thrown. He further added that if her student i.e. me, fails to tell about stories in the books just by looking at the title for a few moments, he will thrash me from the library to our home. She was now smiling at the prospect of proving me wrong and see me being thrashed by a six-footer in front of the whole class!
My test-My Reading Habits
She walked confidently to the bookshelf. I was a bit jittery but positive that I will prove my claim of having read so many books and remembering the story also. The match was on and few teachers also came to watch my performance. The librarian picked a bunch of books randomly and told me to look at them. I glanced at the title and gave the book back to her and told her about the story, including the names of the main characters. Librarian was surprised at first but as the pile of books left in the bookshelf grew thin and I kept on explaining the plot of the stories. A look of disbelieving crept on her face. Every time a book left my hand and everybody heard the summary, I could see a smile spreading on my brother’s face. Once that bookshelf was empty, the librarian graciously patted my head and told me that henceforth I can select any book from the library.
It was a long past library period when my brother took leave of librarian and we walked back to our home. In the evening I narrated the whole incident to baiji and bebeji, with few comments from my elder brother. To celebrate my success, baiji gave money for ‘jalebis’, which everybody relished.
Indian Forest Service interview at UPSC-a success story
Let me fast forward to year 1984. I was appearing for Indian Forest Service interview at UPSC. The Chairman glanced at my application form and looked at my hobbies. He asked me what type of books I read. My answer was “from Harold Robbins to Ernest Hemingway”. The next question made me smile. He asked me which books of Hemingway I have read. I listed all his books including biographies written by eminent persons. For the next 40 minutes, it was Hemingway all the way, as an author, person, his philosophy, his heroines, his heroes, major incidents and critical analysis of his works. The other members were getting restive and waiting to ask questions.
The Chairman realized and asked me one final question, and that was how Hemingway died. I quoted verbatim from Hemingway’s biography written by his brother that ‘on a fine Sunday morning, when everybody was at Church, he shot himself with his shot-gun’. The chairman smiled and I knew that I have done well. Once again, the love of books, sincerity and understanding in pursuing the hobby helped me in achieving my dream. Thanks again to baiji and bebeji for kindling love and passion for books. And thanks also to Col. Charan Singh for helping me to complete challenge.
Thanks for reading this.
Paramjit Singh IFS