Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A peephole into the past

I went looking for my copy of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, which I'd bought nearly 15 years ago. I knew it was in pretty bad shape - I'd lent it to a colleague who'd returned it with a broken spine. I thumbed through the books on the shelves and came upon a book with a torn hinge and seized it, grateful I'd found it.

A second later I stepped back, disappointed. It was not Like Water for Chocolate after all. It was Enid Blyton's In the Fifth at Malory Towers, hardbound, the paper browned and going brittle. I must have bought it off the street in Bangalore.

The book instantly transported me. Summer holidays. My parents' house. My aunt* would ply me with Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and whatever other books struck her fancy at the local library. I would disappear into my room, prop up my pillows, pull my covers up to my chin and be thoroughly useless for anything else the next few hours.

One day, around mid-afternoon, I heard a strange wailing noise followed by sobs coming from my mother's room. I threw off the covers and rushed to the doorway of her room, not really knowing what to expect. I'd never heard my mother sobbing loudly before.

From the doorway I saw her. My mother was half-collapsed on her pillows, clutching her stomach with one hand. Tears streamed down her face which she half-heartedly tried to wipe away when she was not clutching her stomach. The other hand held a Malory Towers book.

She was laughing.

When I'd finished yelling at her for making me worried and got her to calm down she told me what was so funny. Something about some powder that became invisible when you rubbed it on to a stool but showed up a bright pink when someone sat on the stool and warmed it.

I summoned up all of my tweenage disdain for humor of that sort, smiled my superior smile and walked off.

Secretly, though, my heart swelled. She, whose wisdom even I was not so stupid as to not recognize even in the middle of my worst rebellious phase, thought that the things in my world were funny. That they were worth enjoying.

I held the book in my hand and slowly turned the pages, not wanting to damage it any more. The first page had a girl's name written in capital letters, and the seal of a library made with an ink pad. Another girl's name written in a neat cursive with a red ball point pen adorned the second page. In the same handwriting, a little note in the middle of the page written with a pencil:

When I am right no one remembers. When I am wrong no one forgets.
Teenage. Angst.


P.S.: Chox recently wrote about some great book finds in Bangalore.

* Yes, the sakkare achchu aunt.


Anusha said...

beautiful flashback! and your mom sounds ultra cool.
btw, this post reminds me - whatever happnd to the writing workshop?

Choxbox said...

lovely suj. keep writing.

aah teenage angst - how many more years of bliss do we have left?!

Nino's Mum said...

hahaha :)
what a beautiful memory! you mum really is uber cool!
It was sort of the other way round for me - my mum is fanatical about World War II and she's collected a huge amount of fiction/non-ficiton literature attached to it. Somehow, it was the bit of our library she never encouraged me to try. I did, in what was my rebellious phase, and during an argument that she was having with a friend, I filled in a few gaps in facts. I'll never forget her look - part betryal, as if I'd stepped onto something scared that I wasn't supposed to, and part pride.

Prats said...

This transported me straight off to my room too....and the very same Enid Blyton and later to the more bigger ones....
I re-read 'Like water for chocolate' recently, the one gifted by my sis, and I know how this thing about books and moms go....way too many memories

Anonymous said...

Lovely! It was my mother who introduced me to Blyton, Nancy Drew and the like - for years, when the library restricted us to 6 books, we'd bicker over which ones to bring home, as she'd read a few more than I had and didn't want repeats!

Sadly, Blyton hasn't aged well - I still read and collect girls' fiction, but rarely re-read Blyton anymore.


Anonymous said...

Oooh I miss these books. When I was in Bangalore this time around I had some great plans to get a hold of a ton of Amar Chitra Katha's and Enid Blyton's but never got around to it.
The Enid Blyton's especially bring back memories of long, lazy days in Vizag at my maternal grandparents home.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Kodi's Mom, thanks! Want to continue the writing prompts? Let's. Why not?

Chox, one less day every day. :)

Nino's Mum, that sounds super intriguing. And what was with those rebellious phases, anyway. I'm hoping if nothing they'll at least help me be more understanding of my kids.

Prats, :) What did you think about Like Water..?

M, that's so sweet! :) And why is that? Is that because her writing is considered sexist?

Siri, awww, you should have. India is the place for Enid Blytons. They are just so expensive here and mostly not available.

Anonymous said...


No, I don't think Blyton's sexism/racism is a problem. Sexism was pretty much a given (though to varying degrees) in most authors of the time, as was racism. I just find her writing too flat now - probably written down too much - it doesn't hold me like it used to.

Other authors of her approximate time, who wrote similar stories, like Clare Mallory (Merry series) or Gwendolyn Courtney seem to achieve a better balance between writing for a tween audience and not condescending to them...

Interestingly, my kids have not taken to Blyton at all. I tried my son (who's also 8, like yours) on various adventure series, but he thought them all boring. He adores Anthony Buckeridge (Jennings) and has recently gotten into Geoffrey Trease, so it isn't the age the books were set in necessarily. I thought daughter (aged 6)might be a better candidate for the books, but she found the fairy tale/imaginary world ones "too silly" and the adventure ones "too boring" - she prefers American authors like Beverly Cleary or LIW. So my Blytons have no market right now :-)


Sujatha Bagal said...

M, that's exactly what C says too - there's not enough adventure in them, that nothing happens until the end and then it's too little. He definitely did not take to the Famous Five series. He did read a volume of Secret Seven and The Five Findouters. He seemed to like them better. He's more into the Gregor the Overlander series, he's reading The Mysterious Benedict Society and a couple more fantasy books (dragons coming to life and such) and he's on a steady march through the Hardy Boys series. His librarian at school is his best friend and she has a lot more influence on what he ends up reading. Which is fine by me. :)

Anonymous said...


mine is more into non-fiction (always has been) and now is hooked on WWII - got himself an age appropriate encyclopedia and read up on all the battles etc. I read it as well, and it was pretty harrowing to me, to see it all laid out so factually...and he did as well, but interestingly that got him onto how normal people dealt with the war - thus the Trease. I've been looking for the Biggles books here, with no luck, need to hunt out our old collection from my parents' house next time.

Another favourite series has been the "Horrible Histories" and Horrible Geographies - they're very entertaining and down to earth reads, but again, not available in the US that I know...we got our set from the UK.