It was in the stillness of the lazy afternoons when my great-grandma made herself comfortable on the armchair on the terrace; her hands moving slowly through the pages, her eyes immersed in the details. It was in the heat of the kitchen, where my grandma rushed to get through her cooking, her mind caught in the dilemma the protagonist faced. It was in the long nights that kept my mom awake, the only light coming through the bathroom door hinges; all she cared about was what happens in the end.
The love affair with books spans across generations in my family- a pleasant surprise that I came to learn very recently. I always thought I only picked it up from my mom who has been an avid reader as far as my memory goes. Her frequent visits to bookstores, her never-ending collection of Bengali books, Western and European translations, spoke for themselves. She introduced me to the world of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Syed Mujtaba Ali (ahem, my late great grandfather-in-law), H. Rider Haggard and Agatha Christie to name a few. There was a time when we both raced to finish all Agatha Christie mysteries. Obviously, she won. Books fairs have always been our favourite literary events of the year.
Turns out, we both actually got the knack of reading from the ladies before us. I have never seen my grandma read books, but she was a voracious reader in her early days. So was my great-grandma. There was a small library room in the house my great-grandma lived in. I always assumed that it belonged to one of her sons; imagine my surprise when my mom told me that it was mostly my great grandma’s collection! My mom fondly remembers her grandma, hurrying to finish her chores to spend the afternoons with her books. She would leave her long hair open, allowing them to dry in the afternoon sun and immerse herself in her books. The books she loved were then passed on to my grandma who would read them between her cooking in the kitchen. It did not get passed on to my mom though, but that did not stop her. She would sneak in and read them anyway! My mom giggled as she shared her experience of reading one of her very first books and not understanding a word at that age!
What’s more intriguing though is how all the ladies in the family have been inclined to a certain genre in particular. I began my reading journey with books by Arthur Conan Doyle. For my mom, it was Agatha Christie; Romena Afaz for my grandma, and Nihar Ranjan Gupta for my great-grandma. We all began our reading journey with the same genre, mysteries and thrillers, which was our favourite out of the lot.
I picked up books early on, but my love affair with books has been tumultuous. Or so I thought. Looking back, I can see the distinct pattern now. I have always been keen on reading but when life takes over, I leave the books behind; but like all star-crossed lovers, we find ourselves again, especially when I need them the most. Over the years, books have gotten me through depression, helped me battle anxiety and more recently cope with the unbearable loss I have endured last year.
About four months ago, I lost my grandma to Covid-19. She was a very special person to me. Losing her to this pandemic while being thousands of miles away, and not having a chance to say goodbye, is something I am still learning to come to terms with. I feel robbed of the time I thought I had with her, the stories I didn’t get to hear, the conversations I didn’t get to have. I suppose that’s why I find myself asking about her to my family, trying to know her more to keep this tug between us alive. It is through these calls and conversations that I learned about her fondness for reading and I have never felt so close to her like I do now.
To feel connected to the ladies in my family across generations in this manner is very special to me. Even though my great-grandma and grandma are not here today, we will always share this relationship that will only deepen with time. I read with my great-grandma under the lazy afternoon sun. I read between preparing my weekly meals, just like my grandma. Ours’ is a bond that is timeless and indelible, forged between us a long time ago.