I started my journey into the literary world with Enid Blyton books and fairy tales.
I spent hours reading and my parents were more than happy to ensure a constant supply of books. My teachers started recommending classics and handing me books they thought were good.
However ever since I went down the path of literary classics, most of the books recommended to me were from authors of a particular background. It was understandable given that I was reading English books after all but it limited me to a particular worldview. Even when the books I read progressed to the modern timeline I subconsciously followed the same practice.
My version of the imaginary world was consistently filled with ‘scones’, ‘lashings of ginger ale’, ‘cold sandwiches’, ‘merry children and happy dogs’ as a child and this pattern grew with the books I read. In the back of my head I was aware that these were things that I did not personally relate to but the characters I adored related to them, and that was enough for me.
It was during the pandemic that I first picked a book called God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy owing to its raving reviews. And wow did I love it. Reading a book by an Indian author was an intimate experience. For the first time I understood all the pop culture references, I felt the nostalgia and recognised the cultural subtext. I felt how I am sure little British children in the 1930’s felt when they read the Famous Five. It was comfortable and familiar. As if the story described a world I had already known.
This was a new feeling for me. I pursued more books by Indian authors and was amazed. When I read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, I actually had to sit down as I gasped at the instant connection I felt. The book described the life of Bengali immigrants and as an immigrant coming from lands that shared a close culture with Bengal, I felt represented in a way I had never felt before. The way they held parties, the confusion between nicknames (daknaam) and proper names, the mixing of rice crispies, peanuts and mustard oil to recreate muri in a foreign land. All the tiny moments that my family had shared over the years was right there penned down on paper.
After that experience, I have tried to make it a point to read books by authors from different backgrounds. It provides a window into the cultures and builds empathy. Reading is a way to gain knowledge, but if we simply read books written by a particular ‘type’ of author, we limit our understanding of the world. It is important to ensure that the books we read represent diverse communities for them to truly reflect the world we inhabit.
– Adyesha Singhdeo