So, as I mentioned previously, things got better with respect to my reading habits in Class 5 for two of the previously mentioned reason and I was introduced to the World of foreign authors and writers.

So, from the miniature books, I gradually moved towards reading slightly bigger abridged versions of foreign authors and some of them included Ivanhoe, Around the World in Eighty Days, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. These were the books that I used to buy from the monthly budget that my mom managed to allocate for me.

Slightly better and more complex abridged version of Novels

Just that, the purchases weren’t monthly, but it used to be an annual affair when we used to visit Chennai to visit our hometown further South.

Back in the day, there were roadside shops that used to sell second-hand books near the Mambalam Railway Station and I used to look forward to visiting this store during our return journey so that I could buy books at a cheaper rate too.

Remember, I too wanted to fill my shelf with books? Jyoti Book Depot was a bit expensive for that purpose. So, apart from the books I brought annually, my school library too played a pivotal role in developing my reading habits.And two of the most prominent authors I used to regularly issue from the library were Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene, which got me acquainted with the world of the Famous Five, Secret Seven and the iconic Nancy Drew. Apart from the above, there were other factors too that contributed to my reading habits.

Novels by Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene

You remember I topped Class 4 in my section.

So, my class teacher in Class 5 wanted me to be not just the section topper this time but also the Class topper for both the sections combined. And I too was determined because, the Award for the Topper, called the General Proficiency Award was given to the topper of the Class, which means the student with the highest mark in a particular class combining all the sections. And I wanted this award because the prize money was valued at Rs 480. So, you can imagine that I could add 16 books to my collections (the miniature pocket-sized novels) and will still have about Rs100 to splurge on luxury gift items and stationeries if I wished to do so.

So, I definitely had the incentive to study well and score good marks and it kind of came naturally as well, as I wasn’t really cramming or over the top studious in that sense. I used to watch Shaka Laka Boom without fail and there were tons of other programs I used to watch regularly too. The fact that I never went to any tuition is a testimony to my not-so-over-the-top serious and studious nature and I had this unique distinction in my class of not attending tuition, as everyone else in my Class went for tuition for one or the other subjects, particularly Maths. Plus, the other reason that contributed to my reading was, well as I was performing well in academics, so it was natural for my Class teacher who was also my house teacher to push me towards participating in CCA activities and she gave my name for any and every event, be it Extempore, Elocution, Essay Writing and even Singing. I am sorry for the extreme inconvenience I caused everyone who had to go through the tormenting experience of listening to my voice. However, one good thing came out of my teacher pushing me into participating in these CCA activities. Well, this is other than the carrot of prize money dangling in front of me which I eventually was going to win and expand my collection of books.

As I mentioned earlier, by the end of Class 4, I have read the bulk of the offerings from Vasan (at least the ones that I had an eye on and the ones that were available in our local bookstores).

So, my initial days in Class 5 revolved around only reading Gokulam or other magazines and nothing prominent (at least, the ones I considered prominent). And we had once or twice even bought Tinkle and Reader’s Digest, which were comparatively expensive and were not my go-to shopping for books.

And technically, I haven’t read anything as such called a novel, like in the leagues of what my mom used to read.

And this was about to change as I entered Class 5 for two reasons.

Firstly, until then, for the students who have won prizes in Co-curricular activities (CCA), the school used o present a certificate and a gift that mostly comprised a book.

And I had the honour to receive a book, (a Mini encyclopedia of sorts) when I received the first prize for Spell-O-Fun in Class 4. But this had a bit of a tiny problem. Since I had received only one such prize, I wasn’t aware of the first-world problems of the elite students who excelled well at the CCA. There was a student who received five first prizes, a second prize and three third prizes, and that student ended up receiving the same five books for the first prize and the same three books for the third prize. So, to avoid such problems, I don’t know whose idea it was, but the management finally came up with the idea of presenting Gift Vouchers to us from a popular bookstore in Visakhapatnam called, Jyoti Book Depot. And knowing how our parents behaved, the management was smart enough to put a condition that prohibited us from buying textbooks. So, we were left with the option of buying other books, that is mostly novels and magazines or various other gift items that the store offered.

If you were brought up in the environment I was brought up in as a 90’s kid, you would very well realize that buying gift items were more of a luxury which we people avoided.

And, therefore, I could buy books. And here is when I was introduced to the world of highly abridged novels. These were small pocket-sized novels and had the picture on the one side and the novel content on the other. And if I were to read these today, I could probably complete them in an hour.

The highly bridged version of Classic Novels

And another reason I was fascinated towards them was their cost. Each of them costs about Rs 24 and at times Rs 30. So, I could buy four of them for Rs 100 which was the gift voucher amount for the first prize. These books gave me a window into classic literature written by Charles Dickens, R L Stevenson, Jules Vernes, Edgar Allan Poe and many such writers. And I consumed this kind of summarized version of classic novels like Frankenstein, Black Beauty, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tales of Mystery and Terror, A Tale of Two Cities. Gradually, I was progressing towards a previously unexplored niche of works of foreign authors. Because, until then, the only work by a foreign author I have read was Alice in Wonderland as that was available under Vasan’s publications. And coming to the second reason, why my reading habits improved after coming to Class 5 was because of the rules of the Library in our school.

Some of the books issued from School Library

Only students of Class 5 and above could issue books to their homes and return them the following week. And in a way, there was an assignment associated with it as well. Our Librarian used to ask for a one-page summary of the book that was issued to us. Though it was an assignment that was never seriously enforced, I was among one of the few students who followed it once in a while. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t that sincere in upkeeping the library assignment. Come on, who even takes Library assignments seriously?

Years later, when the topic of how I got into reading used to come up with my college mates or my officemates and I tell them that we had a library assignment, their reaction would be: You even had Library assignments?

So, you can’t expect people to be really serious about such assignments until such things weren’t strictly enforced.

Our budget dilemma was short-lived as my mom managed to find out a way through this obstacle. Saving Rs 30 to buy the next book from the Vasan series may take some time, maybe a couple of months as she was yet to figure out and decide which expenses to cut and how to cut them so that she could at least get me one book of Vasan per month or in the worst case, at least every alternate month.

However, she could surely save Rs 6 extra with relative ease and with Rs 6, we can buy the monthly magazine called Gokulam, every month without fail.

Cover of Gokulam magazine

nd this magazine too had a short story collection and also a few current affairs, crossword puzzles and general knowledge that in a way, actually improved my overall personality too and helped me look more knowledgeable in my class, in which I was beginning to get a bit of attention.

Until then, that is even towards the end of my Class 3 or the beginning of my Class 4, I was just a below-average student and wasn’t an active participant in any Co-curricular or Extra-curricular activity either. I used to occupy the last bench near one of the windows and as far as I remember, my interactions with my fellow classmates were very limited.

This could be for two reasons, maybe, because, I had nothing worthwhile to offer and secondly, a less prominent reason could be language. I could communicate in Hindi, which was our Franco lingua in class, but it wasn’t as good as the native Hindi speakers.

And as far as my English was concerned, the less I spoke about it, the better. It was of no match to the toppers in our class who could communicate in English way better than me or most of the others in our class.

Getting back to our epic of discussion, our purchases weren’t limited to just Gokulam, it sometimes was mixed with magazines like Champak, Chandamama and Wisdom as well.

And through Class 3 and 4, my reading of books slowly yet steadily improved and so was my ability to express myself in English too and I was beginning to make progress in my academics as well, in which I used to be terrible until then, particularly Hindi.

In fact, my mom learned Hindi to teach me Hindi.

The books I read during my Class 3 to 4

And seeing that I was actually invested in reading, my mom found avenues to cut the regular domestic budget and invest in my reading habits and yet again, slowly but steadily, we could buy books from Vasan (which I considered proper books) as well, and it kind of became the habit that we buy at least one of those every month along with the regular magazines of Gokulam among others.

So, we entered the new millennium with a monthly budget for my books accounting to close to Rs 50.

Some of the Vasan series that I have read

So, in all those three years, I have read most of the books from Vasan that included the following:

Akbar Birbal

Tenali Rama


Jataka Tales

Arabian Nights


World Renowned Scientists

Treasury of Children’s Stories

Wisdom Stories for the Children.

And in the due course, I begin to perform well in my academics, so much so that I was the topper for Class 4 Section A in the year 2001 in my school.

My first shot to fame in my school life was in a positive manner.

Now that I have read the Ramayana, it was obvious that my mom was naturally inclined to get me the next epic, which was the Mahabharatha for Children. And after a considerable amount of time and savings, we could lay our hand at the Mahabharatha for Rs 30. And this was in the year 1999 and it was a huge amount for us.

And to be honest, back then, Mahabharatha was a lot more complex to understand for my age with too many characters with complex names kept cropping up across multiple generations.

The second book I attempted to read: Mahabharatha

And I don’t remember completing the book then. And my newly developing habit of reading was in serious jeopardy as I couldn’t connect with the essence of Mahabharatha and I couldn’t see any coherency in its narration. The trouble with me as I could understand back then was, Shri Ram was the hero of Ramayana and the entire tale revolved around him. But who was the hero in Mahabharatha?

ecause, by then, even the movies that I have watched always had a hero and the movie revolves around him destroying a villain. Therefore, in that sense, I couldn’t connect with Mahabharatha because, maybe, it was a multi-starrer of a kind and had too many subplots.

So, I only remember, my mom narrating bedtime stories about various tales and episodes from the epic and to be honest, even my mom wasn’t sure about the names of all the characters and the exact sequence in which the various events happened and where they occurred. Just that, we knew they happened near present-day Delhi, where we lived a year ago. However, she was successful in giving me a gist of it and my broad understanding of Mahabharatha back then was that it was a battle between Pandavas and Kauravas because the Kauravas insulted the wife of Pandavas and the Pandavas finally won the battle with the help of advice given by Lord Krishna, who was an avatar of Lord Rama only (the avatar part was a bit confusing for me back then).

The Mahabharata that my Mom read

Representation of the Mahabharata Poster

And this was further reinforced in me because, back then, we used to have a family friend whom we used to visit, wherein their drawing room was adorned with a huge poster depicting the battle scene from the Mahabharata with Lord Krishna giving advice to Arjun with the chariot and all.

And not to forget, probably the first Sanskrit shloka that I learnt:

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत |

अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ||

So, now that my mom and I realized that Mahabharatha was a not-so-satisfactory reading experience for me as it was quite complex for me, so we decided to switch to her original idea of getting me short stories: Panchatantra or Tenali Rama.

But there was a problem and what could be more problematic for a lower-middle-class family in the late 90s than the budget?

As I ponder over this question now,  many years later, I begin to realize that I have to give credit for this to my mother.

No. She didn’t force me into reading or intentionally inculcated that habit into me, introspecting that it will be beneficial for me.Maybe, you can say, that simply seeing her reading books, which she had as a habit since her childhood, I too simply felt like reading.
Of course, I couldn’t read the books she reads.
Firstly, they were full-fledged novels and secondly, they were in Tamil.
And for a Class 2 kid, reading such huge work wasn’t prudent and moreover, I couldn’t read Tamil back then.

The Books by Ramanichandran my Mom reads

Yeah, I distinctly remember that I was in Class 2, because we have just then relocated from New Delhi to Visakhapatnam and my mom was concerned if her collection of books arrived safely.
And seeing her arrange the books in her part of the shelf, in the cupboard, and seeing my part of the shelf empty; I too wanted to fill my part of the shelf with as many books as possible.
However, I didn’t realize that the collection she owns is a result of years and couldn’t be achieved overnight.

A Sandilyan Novel from my mom’s collection

So, that was one reason, why one could say that I got into the habit of reading, maybe, in an indirect manner. Because, if one carefully analyses the situation, my primary intention was to fill the space on the shelf that was provided for me.
And the second reason could be attributed to the fact that I used to pester my mom for bedtime stories and would ask her about the stories she reads. She primarily reads Ramanichandran’s novels which are hardcore love stories. One may consider them equivalent to Mills and Boons.

Collection of Ramanichandran Novels

So, again, I might not have the aptitude to understand them. And the other books she used to read were essentially magazines like Anandha Vikatan or Kunkumum and they are mostly related to what one could call today as B-Town gossip.
So, for the bedtime stories, she narrated tales which I later came to read through Panchatantra or Jataka tales as well.
And seeing that I wasn’t really satisfied with her storytelling alone and was keen on reading, and also filling my shelf with books, she finally decided to get me my first book, the Ramayana for Children when the opportunity presented itself.

The very first books that I read

And like others in the defense background, even we used to visit our hometown mandatorily at least once in a year, and this journey always happened by train. And for my mom, hometown visits also necessarily included adding some more books of Ramanichandran and other authors to her collections and also back in those days, books were a go-to companion during train journeys, for my mom.

And here, is when my mom let go of one of her books (of course, in a lower-middle-class family, this should be self-explanatory) and helped me add my first book to my collection. She was primarily looking for Panchantantra or Tenali Rama because they would be short stories collections. However, the bookstore didn’t have them.

Other Tamil novels my mom reads

Retrospectively, when I think of it, it was maybe, destiny that I had to start my journey with the Journey of Shri Ram.
And that’s how I got into reading and also got to know a taste of our country’s heritage and culture. Once I used to complete a chapter, then I would give my mom a brief summary of what I read and then she used to add more details to it and gradually our bedtime stories shifted to tales from Ramayana and the folklore associated with it.
And I think, if I am not wrong, I completed the book before I entered class 3 and with a very primitive and basic understanding of Ramayana.

Stay tuned to know more about my Reading Journey…