Monday, May 02, 2016

The Magic of Reading – Proddatur Diaries

Vasu Reddy from Chicago

Almost everyone I knew in town was veracious readers.  My own love for reading (and writing) has been a lifelong and continues to be one.  I read just about everything I can get my hands on; books, magazines, new papers, internet and even my kid’s books.  I keep telling her to read, read and read.

Proddatur had a little library, not a huge one by any standard, but had a good one.  I don’t believe that there were many patrons, so you had easy access to what was available.  It was close to the girl’s high school and a bit of a distance from my home.  Although it was quite a walk, I found it full of promise as it was not crowded, and did have up to date literature for the time.

If I start with my own home, starting with my two aunts who were at home (until they got married) read a lot when I was young (I remember the grand wedding celebrations of both of them). When in boarding school I was a veracious reader.  The school in Horsley Hills had a great library.  From Milton, Keats, Shakespeare to Cricket, there were thousands of books you could read and read and never get tired of the subjects.  Your daily dose of reading was never routine.  I read quickly, and wrote even quicker.  Having a huge family and a great circle of friends did not hamper me from reading.  Reading was very much part of my growing up and learning; it was always magical and intriguing.

Proddatur and with the circle of people, when I was growing up was always full of reading materials.  My friends and cousins all of them read, and always had something in local language to read and chat about.  Most of them waited on the next week’s magazines.  The town I remember had at least two booksellers who had a good collection of books and magazines in Telugu and English.  The periodicals were all over the town and I believe even delivered to homes.  There was easy access to periodicals, not just the Telugu ones, but in English as well.  The popular magazines like Illustrated Weekly (Kushwant Singh was my favorite in that time), Reader’s Digest, Nation Geographic, Life, Time and many of the popular magazines were readily available.

Whatever pocket money I got, typically went to buying the next book or magazine.  Many of the Telugu magazines and books were with one friend/family or the other.  Outside of the public library, the town also had dozens of rent a book/magazine stores (very similar to today’s DVD rental outlets).  These stores had just about every book and magazine in the market for a fairly small daily rental (especially if your friend owns the rental store the new books were for you to read first).  You read them quick and returned them quickly, so that the next person can enjoy the reading as much as you did.

One of my best friends and fellow reader was Sekhar from Rameswaram.  We lived in the edge of Town each of us at a different edge.  The walking distance was too far to just hop over.  Sekhar was a fellow connoisseur in reading.  He was probably my first friend in town who was not just a great friend but also had the love for reading as much as I did, over and above the love for reading he would actually buy his books.  Many times I would rent a bike and ride over to his house to hangout and also borrow books.  Sometimes when I could not afford to rent a bike, I would walk over to his home and hangout and share the love for books.  Sekhar was a dear friend and over time he also became friends with my other gang of friends.  Sekhar and his entire family were very gracious hosts.  Whenever I visited with him at his home, they were always courteous.  Many times I would borrow his latest book and would be done reading overnight.  The interest in written word was greater than sleep or food on many occasions.

It was not just the reading for the sake of it, but the interest and curiosity in each author’s depiction of story being told was always fascinating.  If it was a periodical, waiting for the next week’s edition was as interesting in waiting as any other event in a young life.  I was certainly not the only one lost in books, the whole town I thought (at least most of the people I knew) was equally engrossed with reading.  Outside of an occasional cricket match and unplanned practice sessions, reading I believe was the past time that kept the town entertained.

At the time when I left for the USA (I thought for just a few years, which is a long time now and counting), Veerendranath was the most popular Telugu writer.  As it was a common practice with most of the writers at that time, he write weekly in a serial format; simply a magazine published a few pages every week, and kept the people engaged (to buy the magazine) for sometimes years on.  More than the purchase/rent and reading people were so involved in waiting for what will be coming in the next issue, and next chapter.  My town folks were not alone with the euphoria of what will happen next with the serials.  In the age when TV and Internet did not exist, waiting for next week’s reading held the reader’s (including my own) imagining; what would be next?

Wherever you got together in town conversation veered from coffee to weekly reading.  Most of the girls and women were certainly into reading, and guys probably split between cricket and reading.

A special reference to Veerendranath was that many years later and after him writing dozens of books, and my being away from India for almost 15 years, on one of my many trips to India, one evening I looked up his home phone number from one of his books and called him.  The mobile was yet to be introduced in India.  He answered the phone and I quickly introduced myself and narrated my appreciation for all his books (I had actually purchased all his books, and still have them) and who I was, and that I was in Hyderabad and if he was available would like to meet him.  He readily agreed to meet, and we actually met a couple of times and enjoyed the interactions a great deal.  He showed how he wrote and how he kept a record of his work.  JV and Sharma (big brothers from Proddatur) who lived in Hyderabad joined into the gatherings, which was a great insight into the man who kept us intrigued with his books.  My experience in life has always been that you ask for what you need, and you will often get it.  My little time with Veerendranath was sort of a throw back to my town, and for whatever reasons I could not keep in touch with him.  But the short time with him, was a great insight into a man who kept (still keeps), millions of my fellow beings waiting for his written words every week.  I still have all his books with me (one signed by him) and still read them (many times over) and still enjoy them as I did the first time.  Even though I have read just about every author who has written in Telugu, Veerendranath remains special.  From his early writing days to today, he remains a writer who has kept his reader’s enchanted.

Proddatur, in my time had voracious readers.  I think the whole town was crazy reading.  I keep remembering the whole town and its demeanor, and how much reading was a part of life to the town folks.  The town was serene and almost quaint for a big size population.  We have our own click groups, but seldom anyone saw fist fights, most animated discussions were about cricket and books.  Although the town had a diaspora of religions and people, excitement was reserved for movies, cricket, conversation which centered on the latest weekly.

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