It All Began in a Crowded Market

Twenty years ago I walked through one of Calcutta’s oldest markets, ironically called New Market. The market is a confusing maze with its winding pathways and numerous shops. I trailed closely behind my grandmother as she strode confidently through the crowded lanes, trying desperately not to lose sight of her bright orange sari. She was heading to the jewellery store, and I knew that I was in for a boring afternoon. The gold necklaces and earrings which fascinated her to no end somehow only made my eyes glaze over.  

But today instead of taking me to the usual shop with her, she stopped at a bookstore instead. I had been to bookstores before, but something about this particular bookstore entranced me. I inhaled deeply. It was the smell of new books which transfixed me like a heady perfume. I looked up at my grandmother. She was talking to the owner of the shop, a kindly old gentleman with no hair and thick spectacles. She asked him to look after me for a brief while. And then she was gone, leaving me in my new-found wonderland.  

The old man offered me a stool to sit on and handed me my first book ever, Naughty Amelia Jane. I buried my nose in the book and immediately got lost in the world of rag dolls. When my grandmother arrived an hour later to pick me up, I refused to give up my reading spot and I clutched onto the book, refusing to let go. Eventually, my grandmother bought the entire Amelia Jane collection for me before I agreed to leave.

She unlocked something in me that day. I had found a secret haven, my special place. From Amelia Jane, I moved onto Famous Five and Secret Seven. Followed by Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley and Harry Potter. And, then Gabriel Garcia Marquez and  Knut Hamsun and many others. I stayed up late not partying, but reading books. I occasionally slipped a novel into my textbooks and furtively read as fast as I could. I read books at the dinner table and over breakfast. I read books in the car even though it gave me a headache.  I read and read and read and then I read some more.

At the same time, I was also filling up journals and small diaries with detailed accounts of my daily life. It was all quite mundane. I would write about my friends and teachers and my grandparents. I wrote about what we had for dinner, and what I did the entire day. I wrote about my insecurities during my teenage years. I wrote about feeling fat and inadequate. I wrote about the girl who was mean to me in school. I wrote about my first crush and my first boyfriend. I wrote about my hopes and dreams, and before I knew it I had a drawer packed with my childhood memories.

Today, I continue to fill my days with books. I continue to fill pages with my writing. It’s the only way I know to live. I really can’t imagine any other type of existence.