I seem to have developed my interests in reading almost from my 7th or 8th class. I was born in Tamilnadu and I studied in Tamil medium, and naturally my early readings were in Tamil only.
Probably, I initially started off with weekly Tamil magazines and Ananda Vikatan, a Tamil Weekly was my favorite. My paternal uncle and his wife were voracious readers. His wife became paralyzed almost immediately after marriage and she became invalid below her waist. She made her levitating movements from place to place within their house using her two hands. She was a very kind lady. To help her pass time, my uncle subscribed to almost every magazine. He spent a major portion of his meagre income on magazines. After they read them, they collected all serial stories by cutting them from the magazines and binding them neatly into books. They had great such collection of stories, novels, dramas and preserved them like a treasure. They stayed about a mile from our place. We used to visit their place quite often and borrowed some of these collections to read. They were a great couple.They had a special place in my life and I would like to write about them elaborately on another occasion.
I had particular interest in one detective serial called “ Thuppariyum Sambhu” (The Detective Shambu) by Devan. Mr.Shambu was a detective and went about investigating and unravelling many crimes and mysteries in the town. These stories were humorous, very simple and straight and used common sense approach to solve mysteries. The second serial that absorbed me was 'Veera Vijayan' (The Bold and Mighty Vijayan) – a serial about a personality who was extrordinarily tall and his adventures(and ironically, the inconveniences he had being very tall). The other serial that took Tamilnadu by storm and would dwarf today's 'Bold and Beautiful' serial in terms of length was 'Kanni Theevu' (An Island known as Kanni). This was getting published in the daily Tamil newspaper 'Dina Thanthi' (an equivalent of Daily Telegraph) and was a daily attraction in the paper. There was a large reader group for these comics serials those days.
In Southern Tamilnadu, Saiva Siddhaantha Kazhagam (an organization that promoted Shaiva philosophy) established libraries in several towns including ours. There was a municipal library in addition in our town. While the municipal library had collections of both English and Tamil books, Saiva Siddhanta Kazhagam library offered only Tamil books – both fiction and non-fiction. They also published several books on ancient Tamil literature, theology, spiritualism, and philosophy.
However, those days I had no interest in non-fiction and I focused on Tamil novels There were many popular writers. Historical novels were particularly popular. Family stories were popular especially among household women. Detective novels lured youngsters.
The detective novels written by the late Tamil Vaanan appealed to me a lot. The Detective Sankarlal was the hero in most of these novels. Saiva Siddhantha Kazhagam library did not allow readers to take books home and so, as soon as I returned from the school, I would rush to the library. Usually a novel would be finished within a week or so and many times, I went to the library only to be disappointed as my chosen book would be in the hands of someone else. I read almost all his novels. Besides writing novels, Tamilvanan also ran a weekly magazine called ' Kalkandu' (The Sweet Candy). It was a kind of tit-bits magazine. I wondered how he collected volumes of information on wide ranging topics for publishing in Kalkandu as tit bits. In addition, there was a question-answer section, where he answered a variety of questions from readers– from history to modern science, biology to psychiatry, current affairs to Neanderthal man. His style was simple and straight forward so that ordinary folks could easily understand them. The tit-bits were very informative, inspiring inquisitiveness and curiosity. They were a kind of ' Tell me Why?', ' What you want to know?', 'How they work?' collections. It baffles me even today that he could do this in 1950s. Compared to that, what do we find in most magazines today? Most pages in today's magazines in Tamilnadu are filled up with films and film related stories or news, the remaining part consumed by advertisements to create revenue.
Most of the very popular and versatile writers contributed their stories to weekly magazines – the most famous among them were Ananda Vikatan, Kalki and Kumudam. I enjoyed the writings of eternal names of those days in Ananda Vikatan: Jayakanthan, Seval Kodiyon, Saa Vi, Kothamangalm Subbu, Bilahari, Sivasankari, Indumathi just to name a few. Of particular interest were the serial novels like: Thillana Mohanambal (about the dancer Mohanambal), Un Kannil Neer Vazhinthal (a family drama), Washingtonil Thirumanm (a hilarious story about a South Indian Brahmin marriage at Washington D.C). S.S.Vasan, the Tamil film legend and the then owner of a large film studio 'Gemini' in the heart of Chennai city was also the publisher and owner of Anand Vikatan. He maintained very high standards about the contents of his magazine. Their cover page along with the satire joke captured many and was a Tamil parallel of acclaimed R.K.Laxman cartoons.
'Kalki' that comes out even today had somehow lost much of its earlier sheen. The then editor and owner Kalki wrote some of the most ever talked about tamil novels titled: Ponniyin Selvan, Parthiban Kanavu, Alai Osai to name only a few. Many of these serial novels were written with historical perspectives and had tremendous readership. The name Vandhiya Thevan, the hero of his most popular novel Ponniyin Selvan roars in my ears even today.
While Ananda Vikatan and Kalki appealed to the asthetic sense of intelligent and educated Tamilians, Kumudam appeared to be more commercial appealing to masses by focusing on current affairs, films, and juicy tit-bits and probably set a radically new trend in magazine media that rules the state even today. Unarguably, Kumudam continues to enjoy the maximum readership. The stories written by Jawar Seetharaman, Sandilyan, Raa Ki Rangarajan, S.A.P and the likes were very popular. Historical novels written by Sandilyan were great hits. These well-researched novels cleverly forged history and creativity ending in a suspense week after week; one couldn't wait till the next issue to know how the story progressed further. Jawar Seetharaman used to write on mystical topics and his 'Udal Porul Anandhi' was a spine chilling novel. Some of his novels used subjects like mesmerism, and meta-physical topics to induce reader anxiety.
There were other great authors too like Akilan, Naa Paarthasarathy, Ki Vaa Jagannathan, Manian, in whom I took particular interest.
In Tamil story writing, two people made significant impact and changed the way the magazines looked. One was none other than the author Sujatha and the other was the artist Jey (raj). Suffice is to say they are a class by themselves. Tamil media lost Sujatha recently in mid 2008 and he will be ever remembered for his variety and novelty in writings.
Somehow, I did not show much interest in other popular magazines lilke Kalaimagal. Mangayar Malar, another popular monthly magazine published even today, is popular especially among brahmin ladies.
Another aspect of these Tamil magazines was the pictorial depiction of characters or incidents in a novel or story, by artists. Those days Gopulu was a notable cartoonist and also a painter. Though one should not draw comparison, he was a tamil parallel for R.K.Laxman. Every artist was unique in some way or other. Besides the vivid and stunning images of Vandhiya Thevan (of Ponniyin Selvan) drawn by Sinha in Kalki are still lingering in my mind. Maya was another paint artist who deftly drew ordinary people like you and me and he drew pictures for many family stories.
The coming of Jey (Jeyaraj) as a paint artist changed the face of many Tamil magazines. He was an expert in human anatomy and he drew captivating pictures of the characters particularly the women characters who adorned the modern looks.
I must mention about another magazine 'Thuglak', that is popular with its political satire. The Editor Cho Ramaswamy is a political commentator, a former comedian in Tamil films and dramatist. His plays on stage were great hits those days during a time when there was so much anti-establishment feelings among people. He echoes people's concerns, worries, criticisms in his usual inimitable humorous and satirical manner. Though very controversial, I enjoy Thuglak today also.
As I entered High School, my interests slowly got shifted to English books. Strangely, I was one who took to learning English seriously. I always adopted my free-style answering in English language tests and exams and chose not to use the ones usually dictated by the teacher. I made lot of mistakes and scored only average marks in English language, but the teachers always appreciated and lauded my independent style of writing and encouraged me to continue the way I used to write regardless of the not-so-good performances in class tests. Remember, I studied in Tamil medium school.
My initial reading interests went towards Perry Mason detective novels written by Earl Stanley Gardener. I visited the local municipal library and read every Perry Mason novel. I relished the court scene arguments, Perry Mason's summary on how he solved the mystery from bits of information and the final twist in every novel. Somehow, my comfort levels with the writings of Agatha Christie and later on James Hadley Chase who were near contemporaries, was quite low and I did not read many much.
During my high school day, I particularly liked the non-detailed text books for their story values. Many stories written by famous authors like Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas and the likes were prescribed for study and they were mostly in an abridged form.
As I progressed, I started taking interest in the novels of Arthur Conon Doyle – his novel ' Hound of the Baskervilles' and a few others where Sherlock Homes detective was the chief character used to be my favorite.
During the time I was in in my high school, they used to show films in the school auditorium. I specifically remember enjoying movies like 'Twenty thousand leagues under the sea' and 'Around the world in 80 days' (besides a few Charlie Chaplin movies). These films motivated me to search for the story books from the library.
As I was just completing my tenth standard, one of my seniors, whom we usually called RV – he later joined IPS and became a successful police officer – encouraged me to learn better and better English and suggested that I must buy a book '30 days for a more powerful vocabulary' written by Wilfred Funk. I couldn't afford to buy that book then, though eventually I bought it much later. Though I lost of the copy of this book in course of time, I bought it – the original publication- once again recently at Bangalore.
Entering college, I continued to take profound interest in English language studies, especially, the classics. The college I studied had a big library and they had good collection of books. I borrowed books from library from time to time and read some of the great authors like Winston Churchill on World War, Aldous Huxley, H.G.Wells, J.B.Priestly, Victor Hugo, Somerset Maugham and the likes. I used to enjoy Milton's ' Paradise Lost', John Ruskin's 'Sesame and Lilies', Jane Austin's 'Pride and Prejudice' to name only a few.
Though I was majoring in Chemistry during my graduation, we had one paper in English language and we had one Shakesperean drama as part of the English language paper. As part of my studies, I read 'Hamlet', 'As you like it', ' Twelfth Night', 'Mid Summer Night's Dream' – the ones that I remember now. I was greatly drawn by Shakesperean English and became obsessed with his writing that I read on my own the original plays: Othello, Merchant of Venice, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing and so on. At that time, I could not understand the texts fully without a help from an English Professor, but still I read them with great enthusiasm. The soliloquy from Hamlet ' To die or not to die' , the speech ' Romans and country men' in Julius Caesar, ' You too Brutus' were all my favorites.
I used to like John Ruskin's style. Many of his sentences used to be very long, sometimes running for pages before they got completed. At times, I tried to imitate him in my English language paper and that did not go well with my professors.
Then,we had the drama 'Pygmalion' from George Bernard Shah and I enjoyed every page of it. Later on, when the movie 'My Fair Lady' was released in our town, though I saw the movie, I could not follow the accent -this difficulty of following western accent continues even today, much to my discomfort. Some serious psychology seem to be at work with me about accents.
I never knew how and why I took so much interest in reading English Classics during those days. Many said I would end up as an English Professor who was least sought after those days. However, destiny had made other decisions for me.
When I was doing my Post Graduation and also during the initial years of my employment during late 1960s and early 1970s, the reading habit came to a virtual stand still. Notwithstanding that, on my first ever employment in May 1970, I bought an Oxford Dictionary for thirty rupees from my first salary and on the front page, I wrote that this was for improvement of my English. I used several meticulous methods to create and build up my own vocabulary that I preserved for almost three decades.
Things changed again when I was posted to Delhi in my early career path during 1972. I stayed in Karol Bagh a popular residential area and asylum for migrating South Indians. Famous for its South Indian Restaurants and their idli-sambar, it also attracted people from other parts of Delhi regularly for its road-side Monday markets, textiles shops at Ajmal Khan Road and pavement book shops. On the pavements of Arya Samaj Road near the Ajmal Khan Road junction there used to be few old- books sellers and you could buy many books for throw away prices – mostly five rupees. My reading interest got kindled again and this time it was novels of later authors.
I feasted myself with books of Arthur Hailey and Irving Wallace my two favorite authors those days. I had read almost all the novels written by them. Particularly I liked 'The Hotel', 'Airport', 'In High Places' by Arthur Hailey from the old sections and 'The Prize', 'The Man' by Irving Wallace. The novel 'The Man' was a kind of clairvoyance and it took nearly forty years to become a reality – an African American has just been elected the President of United States of America in late 2008. The writings of Leon Uris, Nevil Shute, Alistair MacLean, Frederick Forsyth too were enjoyable. I would like to make a special mention about 'The Exodus,' 'Armageddon,' 'QB VII' by Leon Uris; “Ice Station Zebra,' 'Where Eagles Dare,' 'Guns of Navron' by Alistair MacLean are also worth mentioning here. Among the books of Frederick Forsyth, 'The Day of the Jackal' was a master piece.
During my stay in Northern India, I collected a number of English novels that I painstakingly brought to Madras when I was transferred. However, much to my compunction, I had to carry them in gunny bags and dispose them off for a paltry sum to old-book sellers at Moore Market as I realized that I had no serious arrangement with me to preserve those books. The humid weather at Madras spoiled books and they were exposed to the risk of being eaten away by white-ants. I had some of my saddest moments of life when I disposed them off. Besides, I was also concerned about the huge cost of carrying the books along with me whenever and wherever I was transferred to.
During 1980s and till middle of 1990s, I continued reading novels by Arthur Hailey, Irwing Wallace, Frederick Forsyth, Leon Uris. The only other addition that I made was Jeffrey Archer. Probably, I can claim that almost every novel written by these authors have been read by me, unless I had missed some. During this period, reading time got greatly compressed due to official pressure of work. I continued buying books from time to time though I never kept track of what I bought. Many friends and relatives used to borrow books from me; some of them never got returned and I too never bothered to follow them up.
Somewhere in the middle of 1990s, I turned my interest to books on finance, stock market, investments and I stayed with them for quite long.
After I took up a job in the Middle East during later part of 1990s, my reading interest once again got revived, but with a difference. This was when I took serious interest in spiritualism after I came into contact with Sri Amma Bhagawan. One of my clients once mentioned about an author Neale Donald Walsch and about his book ' Conversation with God' and knowing my interest in spiritualism, he recommended my reading that book. However, the opportunity to read that book came much later after an year or so. And when I read the first volume of “Conversation with God” I felt blown apart to pieces. That book really shook me. When I compared notes with teachings of my Bhagavan, I found extraordinary similarity in the messages I had. I read all the three volumes of ' Conversation with God' and that gave me an entirely new perspective to life. I became an ardent fan of Neale Donald Walsch.
During 2002, when I visited USA for the second time, I came to know about the writings of Dr.Deepak Chopra, an Indian Born doctor settled in America. He is a disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I happened to read initially three books during that visit: 'Quantum Healing', 'Creating Affluence,' and 'Ageless Body and Timeless Mind.' His books gave me further insight into spiritual aspects of good health, healing, Mind-Body medicines, alternative healing systems, prosperity and affluence. My Bhagavan was already talking about healing and made many of us spiritual healers by his mere blessing. I adored Dr.Chopra and became an ardent fan for his writings too.
These two authors – Neale Donald Walsch and Dr.Deepak Chopra – coupled with the blessings and teachings of my Sri Amma Bhagavan changed my life completely. I know I am not perfect yet and so are many. I may still have my negativities stuck with me. But I know now that I am different now. Things look different to me though they are the same and I now know why have what I have. I continue to read their books even today. I subsequently read 'Communion with God,' ' Friendship with God,' ' Home with God,' by Neale and ' Seven Spiritual Laws for Success,' ' Life After Death,' 'Peace is the Way,' ' Return of the Rishi,' ' How to Know God' by Dr.Chopra. Every book by Walsch and Chopra is a master piece and I return to them from time to time by giving them a second or third reading.
During this time, another author who motivated me and inspired me heavily was Anthony Robbins and his books 'Unlimited Power' and ' Awaken the Giant Within' were extremely useful to me during times of difficulties and challenges. Again, like our Bhagavan, he talks about beliefs and how they control our lives.
During the last about 7 years, I had been reading more books that were spiritualistically oriented, though I had not quite given up novels. I continue to read novels just for time passing and the earlier charm in reading them was lost in me.
During my several visits to USA, one thing I enjoy most about my stay in USA are the libraries and the books. The subjects I read ranged over 'creation', 'big bang', 'evolution', 'science and religion', 'consciousness', 'healing', and so on. The chronicle of books read might look weird and I am not going into them now. Just for a small sample: 'Biography of Albert Einstein', 'Big Bang' (By Dr.Robin Singh), 'Instinctive Healing', 'The last hours of ancient sunlight' 'Train your Mind and change your brain', 'The Language of God', 'Conscious Living', 'J.Krishnamurthy' (By Propul Jaykar).... the list is long.
During the recent periods, I also read Dan Brown, John Grisham, David Baldacci, Clive Cussler, Sydney Sheldon and I must make a special mention about Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown), Camel Club (David Baldacci), Client (John Grisham) that I liked.
In between, I also rediscovered my old interest in reading Tamil books, though this time, my interests were different. I read on Ramakrishna Paramahamsar, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Ramana Maharishi, Alwars and Nayanmars of Tamilnadu, Hindu Relion (by Kannadasan) and so on.
My interest also went into learning Sanskrit slokas, various sukhtams, Rudram, Chamakam and I learnt them even while I tried to understand their meanings. Understanding and Faith both are essential while one uses these slokas for ultimate liberation. I just started reading Bhagavad Gita, the core slokas and their essential meanings.
If the chronicle on my reading interests appears too long, I only wonder how little I have read so far and how much more are there waiting to be read. I found books as great sources of understanding, knowledge and inspiration. They are just not for time-passing alone. They have helped me in my imagination and creativity. I am just 60 now and I split my daily time between my reading, writing, music, exercising and preaching spiritualism to people who look for it – and I have to snatch some time in between for my wife too, while my children don't bother me any more.