Carrying a few coconuts back with us, I would hurry on ahead as we neared our home, eager to tell my mother and elder sister all about the things I had seen. They, too, would listen to my stories as I got prepared for the day.
Other than my parents, we were many brothers and sisters in that house. My sister Zohra used to take special care of me. I think she was especially fond of me as I was not as naughty as some of the other children. I was quite dreamy and loved to spend time on my own, either by the seaside watching the birds fly around or looking for patterns in the clouds. My mind was always full of questions like why can birds fly and not us? How does the beating of the wings keep the birds up in the sky? Does the sun really fall into the sea at the end of the day? Where do the waves come from and where do they go? I asked these questions to my elders, and when I didn’t get the replies I wanted from them, I looked for them in books.
At the time, there were very few books available for children to read. Adults, too, mostly only read the newspapers. However, there was one person in that small town who had many books and who made sure anyone who wanted to read could do so. His name was S.T.R. Manickam and he was a freedom fighter. After dinner, I was allowed to go to his home library and look through his many books. His house was on a main road, and I felt a thrill each time I entered it. What book would I get to read today? Manickam himself helped me choose books that I could read. They were fairytales and biographies and books that explained everyday occurrences in simple language. Sitting there, among the tall bookshelves, the light coming feebly from some lamps, I would look at the flickering shadows of the cupboards on the walls, see my own wavering shadow among them, and then lose myself in a world of words and knowledge and imagination. That little library was my first introduction to the wonderful world of books.