Of movers and shakers

My father, a ripe 122 years if alive, was not college-educated, read little and had no literary pretensions. Scion of a Malabar landlord enjoying sovereign prerogatives like taxing powers in a few villages during the British days, he shared equally the advantages and drawbacks of this lineage.

A childhood in luxury's lap proved his undoing: with a capricious resignation spree from various government and private jobs, he had, in his late sixties, to slog to make both ends meet - including his children's education. Taught under Europeans, his proficiency in English, embellished with a smattering of law, was remarkable. He was always at war with his employers and I still possess a yellowed paper, about a hundred years old, with his stylish, right-slanting handwriting, evidencing such epistolary battles.

At 65, he worked as a clerk in a cultural institution, with its own magnificent library. During the mid-summer vacation, he would take me with him for help in addressing envelopes, affixing stamps etc. During spare hours, standing precariously on wooden stools, I would thumb through the books in the library, stacked in teakwood almirahs seven or eight feet high. If a work proved absorbing, I would step down, occupy a chair and start reading with greater concentration.

The office, a heritage structure with huge, tall doors, stood in a vantage spot fondled by the Ernakulam backwaters, from which a slightly warm breeze would waft in continuously, caressing tired limbs. During the monsoon, watching the ripples that raindrops would etch in the limpid water was exhilarating. Another attraction: tea and snacks at noon from the nearby Brahmin restaurant!

My father neither asked me to read nor stood in the way, which meant much, reading novels, short stories etc being held a taboo in orthodox families then. A slightly different world awaited me when I joined the college, just two or three blocks away from dad's office, with a library that was the envy of many a scholar in the neighbourhood.

The librarian was a venerable veteran, himself an avid reader. He soon ensnared me in his web: when I filled up some requisition forms, my English handwriting arrested his attention. He found potential in me he felt he could tap, that is, making entries in the library registers! In return, he gave me a free run of the entire library: even on Saturdays and during long vacations, I could take books as I pleased - something none either before or after me could do. He guided me on what and whom to read.

It was heavenly here as well: to forget oneself as the denizen of a totally different world crafted through the magical words of immortal writers, with the breeze from the backwaters licking up the sweat drops mid-March Sun would sprinkle on the body.

The first of the two men, blissfully unaware of what he was doing, heaped books on me; the second did too, but knowing fully well that he was shaping me!

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