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.

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