Today is the world book day. It makes me reflect on my own life.

I never had formal education.Growing up in India, my fathers job meant he never stayed in a place for more than a year or so. Getting in a school was hard. So my parents arranged private tuition for me.

That meant having tutors of varying abilities turning up everywhere we went. Some couldn’t teach, or didn’t consider me a good enough learner, some I didn’t like and didn’t want them to teach me. The result was I never had a continuity  of education.

Being an only child i was mostly left to my own devices. Most of our servants lived in quarters by our house and I will make a beeline for those, where the servants children were willing partners in climbing trees and swimming in the dodgy streams.

The only thing I did have was, my father taught me the basic “the National Reader’ the text book of basic grammar in the 1950s India. My father was educated at Cambridge ,so his knowledge of the subject was impeccable. He taught me up to the second book in that series. And my mother who was a poet and read avidly, taught me up to the second book in Urdu alphabet and very basic grammar. As soon as I could put the alphabet together I started to try and read. From ketchup bottles to billboards, my favourite pass time was trying to decipher words.

Both my parents loved books, wherever we went the first thing my mother did was to sign up to the local library. She read Urdu books and wrote Urdu poetry. The famous authors of that time, Minto and Chugtai were familiar to me. My father read anything in English.Apart from the books , we had magazines like the Colliers, The Life international, Argosy and the Lilliput! And often he will explain things from those publications to my mother and I. I remember the details of the romance between Princess Margaret and Capitan Townsend, the divorce of the King of Iran ,to his beautiful wife Suraya because she couldn’t have children, all those colourful photos in the Life magazine. I was fascinated with the words and pictures.

All my spare time was spent trying to decipher the written word. And soon as I could make sentences I will try and make sense of it. Very quickly I could read and I kept on reading , I just read all the books in Urdu, according to my mother my grammar and syntax was impeccable! And my parents were not into giving compliments.

It took me a longer to learn to read English. As no one spoke the language and I couldn’t make sense of it. I started to sit in when my father used to listen to the service. And to my fathers irritation asked so many questions!

My parents being the product of the post war India ,were snobbish and believed in keeping up appearances. They were ashamed that I have not been to school, they told stories about my being “not interested” in studying or going to school etc; , but by then I could read most things, even the racy stories in publications like the Argosy! And the racy Urdu material which my parents kept on the top of the bookshelves.

When in the 1960s I wanted to join nursing , my parents disowned me ,threw me out of the house and at 16 I was homeless, but have secured a place in the Health School for a three years degree course in Health visiting. My test paper for the admission having received the top marks!

Though my parents didn’t reconcile with me until the 1974 ,when my first child was born, I have by then finished my training, worked in the rural areas , met and married my late husband and was in England ,doing further training in a London teaching hospital!

I passed on my love of books to my children at a very early age. I remember when I bought a shiny book for my son aged three months, my neighbour cynically remarked was I trying to make him an Oxbridge Scholar !

Actually he is, wining scholarships from the age of nine, and finishing at Cambridge as a lecturer and now the Reader, at a young age.

My daughter has excelled herself too.

And I really get such a buzz, when am told my grand children are avid readers, my youngest grand daughter at the age of 4 1/2 ,has just received four stars for reading. The eldest grand daughter, has read the entire selection of her favourite author and the other one aged eight is a prolific story writer.

Of course the credit goes to their parents, am not taking the credit, but it is the love of books their parents were given, may be I can take a little credit.

So here is a toast to the written word. There is nothing like it.


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