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10 Books from Childhood

I was planning to write a post on Indian authors writing in English; something to the effect of sticking to things people understand rather than venturing into uncharted territories and making a hash of thing and yada yada yada! But then I saw Cleo and Helen doing a very interesting post on their favorite childhood books and I realized, something I shared with Cleo, that children in Europe and Asia seemed to have read very different literature from their counterparts in Americas. And as I thought more about it, my own childhood reading was very different from standard English language centric affair because it was rooted in a lot of stories and books from my native language, Bengali, the lingua franca of the eastern state of Bengal in India and the national language of Bangladesh. I read and was read a lot of English books as well, but in those formative years, Bengali literature left an indelible mark on me. Therefore, it made sense to recount some of best books from my childhood days including local literature, rather than dwell on Indians writing in what is essentially not their native language! Without further ado then, I present to you the 10 of my most memorable books from my childhood –

Thakumar Jhuli by Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder – This collection of folk tales, which have thrilled generations after generations of Bengali children. Princes, Queens, Witches, Priests and Merchants all came together in these stories illustrating stories of courage, patience and faith. These stories as an adult I realize also depicted a colourful vibrant society of 17th-19th century Bengal, shedding interesting light on some of the more non tangible aspects of life like loyalty, spiritualism and the philosophy of kindness! Fun fact – I used to love this collection so much, that besides have two copies of the book, my dad had brought me an audio cassette version as well; well before the era of “audio books”. The dramatized audio versions were in a form of a musical and the songs are still some of my favorites!

Abol Tabol by Sukumar Roy – Abol Tabol literary means nonsense, and this set of nonsensical rhymes have brought joy not only to many children, but also several adults, including my own father. Pun ridden and satirical, they provided huge entertainment to me while growing up, only once again realizing as an adult, that among the nonsense and word play, there were subtle hidden commentary on the bigotry of early 20th century Bengal society. Continues to endure as an all-time favorite.

Feluda Series by Satyajit Ray – The son of Sukumar Roy and India’s premier film maker, was naturally also an accomplished story teller. The fact that he could write absolutely thrilling detective stories for children and young adults, however took his genius to a whole new level. The world had Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys and so did I; but I also had Feldua – the Bengali detective who along with his nephew Topshe and friend Jatyu, traversed the length and breath of India, cracking some of the most difficult cases using subtle mental analysis and knowledge from a wide range of reading! I cannot even begin to explain the hours of summer school break that were devoted to reading this series again and again!

Chader Pahar by Bhibuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay – Literally meaning the Mountain on the Moon, this timeless adventure remains a classic since it was originally published in 1937. This story of a young Bengali man’s tryst with Africa is an thriller, travelogue and deeply profound narrative on pushing the boundaries of nature, is a tale which I would think everyone must read once, including and especially all adults.

Enid Blyton Books – I know this is the broadest possible category ever, but then I cannot recollect not ever loving any book she wrote. She was the standard fare of in all schools in India, atleast in 1980s and since my parents also loved her writings, our house was filled with her works. I loved her Noddy series, I loved her Secret Seven/Famous Five, I loved her; I know there is a lot of controversy around her and her writings, but all I remember as a child was she gave me companions and think of adventures which no else seem to be able to and she made boiled eggs taste like a delicacy!

Children Reading

The Fairytale by Walter Firle (1859-1929)

Ann of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery – I love Anna. I was Anna; albeit with parents, but always bursting with energy, emotions and expressions. When I read Anna at the very impressionable age of 13, besides loving this moving story of Ann and her adoptive parents, I realized that it was ok to be the way I was, that it was even funny and someone somewhere nearly 100 years ago could and did believe in girls like me!

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – What is not there to like about this story of eternal friendship, romping adventures and some very basic truth about humanity and joy. Even as an adult, I continue to love this book and cannot wait to share my dog eared, battered copy with my god daughters!

Russian Fairy Tales – My father grew up in the swinging 60s and believed that a country like ours had much to learn from Socialist principles of equitable distribution of wealth. He himself read a lot of Russian authors, all of which would eventually he would bequeath to me, including Gorky, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov etc. Naturally flowing from this, he brought me this big book of Russian Fairy Tales, which remain incomparable in my imagination, opening up the country and her people and inspiring a deep-rooted love for the country. The Firebird from this selection, remains one of my most favorites reads till date!

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall – Again a book that came to via my father; for many years he worked and collaborated on several Indo-Australian projects related to immigration laws before it became the “it’ thing. One of his oldest friends, and one of the most erudite men I have had the pleasure of knowing gifted me this book, I believe when I was 6. The adventures of the Koala, Blinky introduced me to Australia, like no one. This book is quintessentially Australian and quintessentially one of the best books ever to be read to a child!

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham – What is there for me to say that is not already been said about this classic? The adventures of Toad, Mole, Rat and Badger as they navigate Toad Hall in an effort to reclaim what is rightfully Toads is a moving story of friendship and kindness!

There are so many that are missing the list, but these are the 10 that come to my mind!

P.S. This is a an incredibly late Top Ten from dated July 02 2019, as part of the Top Ten Tuesday  series, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl,

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. mudpuddle #

    wow! how many people can remember books in Bengali and English both? not many, i would guess… Wind in the Willows was a favorite; Winnie the Pooh also… tx for reminding me of the joy derived from them…

    July 9, 2019
    • Thanks so much…I would like to preen around a bit, but the fact remains most of us in India are atleast fluent in 3 languages and I seem to list only two….Winnie the Pooh is out of the world!

      July 10, 2019
  2. What an interesting list, with a good mixture of English and Bengali books! I loved Anne of Green Gables, The Wind in the Willows and anything by Enid Blyton. I used to enjoy fairy tales too, but I don’t think I read any Russian ones as a child.

    July 11, 2019
    • Enid Blyton was such an important figure growing up! Across geographies, across culture and even generations, her books played such a critical role in our lives!

      July 14, 2019
  3. Love your list, Cirtnecce! I am going to try to find a copy of Feluda, it sounds exactly like a book I’d have enjoyed (and still would). What also fascinates me about your list, comparing with mine and other’s, is how familiar the themes are! Fairy-tales, detective stories, books about coming-of-age… we all liked very similar books as children. 😀

    July 11, 2019
    • Oh!! I do hope you find Feluda and enjoy it….it has some heavy literally Bengali cultural references but overall they are just an amazing detective stories!! Do let me how the reading goes……I know Fairy tales are not “in” anymore, but I did love them and still think they were important for in how they defined me

      July 14, 2019
  4. I believe Amazon Canada has at least one of your Bengali favourites! I might order it!

    I appreciate good writing more than anyone and I love Enid Blyton! In fact, I’m reading one of her Secret Seven books right now!

    All the others … yes, yes and yes! But I don’t think I’ve read Blinky Bill although I’ve heard of it. I must dig it up.

    Great list! I’m glad you did one. After your comment on my blog I was going to ask what your list was and now I don’t have to! 😉🙏

    July 12, 2019
    • Which bengali book is available? Good writing across books and genre’s is the key and I LOVE Secret Seven! Please do read Blinky Bill…..that book is out of the world! I wanted to share the list and have a conversation, so I am glad it worked out for both of us!!

      July 14, 2019
  5. Diana #

    I am impressed to see on your list “Russian Fairy Tales”. Being from Russia originally, that is all that I read in my childhood – Pushkin’s tales was almost my first “proper” book. Then I was gifted the illustrated copy of “The Wind in the Willows” (in Russian translation, of course) – it was an awesome book, but some of the pictures there kind of scared me when I was little, I do not recall now why.

    July 24, 2019
    • Hey Diana….That culture is so rich in literature….at one point I wanted to go learn Russian as a language and get my graduate degree in its literature. It is still my bucket list to read The Brother Karamazov in Russian….I may be 90 by then and have to re-read every other page, but I honestly think it will still be worth it! The Wind in the Willows can be a bit intimidating, even as a story…..unless you become older and wiser, or have a wise father!

      July 25, 2019
      • Diana #

        The irony is that I never read The Brothers Karamazov in Russian. I read it first time in English and am still to read it in Russian. I agree with you that reading books in their original language is another much better, and more fulfilling experience. When it comes to Russian poetry in particular, especially Pushkin, such as Eugene Onegin, goodness I always think when I read that poem that everyone everyone must simply learn Russian at whatever cost just to appreciate that one kind of beauty of that work.

        July 25, 2019
      • You know I have not read Onegin….I cannot believe how I missed it ….everyone including English speakers who read it in English have told me it is “the” poetry to read! I am going to try and get hold of it this weekend!! And add it to read it in Russian in my bucket list!

        July 26, 2019

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