In this literary essay, Mantra Roy writes about her readership journey through American literature to the point of immersing herself in Indian literature after leaving India.
I don’t remember a time when I did not read. Growing up in Calcutta, now Kolkata, reading late into the night, snuggled in my berth of a bunk bed that I shared with my sisters, is perhaps one of the best memories I associate with my teen years. I remember making a list of books I would complete in a year and sharing it with my Baba and sisters, hoping to impress one and compete with the other two. While Baba suggested more books that we should look up in his library, my sisters and I entered a silent competition to get to some of the books before the others. I was a slower reader than my sisters; sometimes it worked to my advantage because I could take my time with a longish book, such as Gone with the Wind, while my sisters moved from one book to the next.
When I look back at the books I read in those years, before curriculum dictated the study of literature in my English Honors program in college, I realize I read primarily American literature. I read some Bengali literature – Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, some Tagore and Shesher Kobita made me weep, Sukumar Ray, Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay, among others, but it did not compare in volume to what I read of American literature. I tried Satyajit Ray’s Feluda but then I discovered Sherlock Holmes and read through the entire collection. Staple British literature was a distant runner up as well, besides the usual Dickens, Austen, Brontes, Hardy, and of course Shakespeare. Indian writing in English hardly featured in my list of completed books, although names such as Nirad C. Chaudhuri, R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Ruth Jhabvala, Anita Desai, among others, floated around me. Neither did I ever focus on genres but I foolishly stayed away from horror and science fiction. I have missed out on authors like Stephen King, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and many more. I mention these authors because everyone in my family have read these authors. I haven’t. I did read some Ray Bradbury and was blown away by A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. The memory of the film still makes me nervous.