I am usually one of those indifferent persons who cause chain posts on social media to collapse. But the latest chain on Special Books is interesting. Some of my friends had tagged me. And I, readily, oblige for a change.
These books may not necessarily be the ones that I still rate highly. These are books that have been special to me or have influenced me at that point in time. This list is largely in a chronological order.
The Early Phase – my school days:
1. Adventures of Subramaniyan – you couldn’t have read these stories. They were never written down by their creator – my father. But I entered the world of stories through them. And I don’t remember any of them fully; I doubt if my father does – I don’t hear him telling those stories to my daughter.
2. Kamba Ramayanam – This must be my first audio book: another book that I have never read fully, but almost feel like I’ve know it, as I’ve been hearing these stories from my father from the age of 3. Later, my school was the regular host for Kovai Kamban Vizha. [If we were to make a similar list of movies, I would include Parasakthi, Manohara, Devadoss and Pudhiya Paravaigal, none of which I had seen then, but heard, or thought I heard, the entire stories and dialogues from my father.]
3. Black Arrow, Robert Louis Stevenson – I won this book as a prize at school, and this, most definitely, was my first English novel. Looking at the chapterwise structure, I still remember thinking that they were short stories and being surprised to see the continuity. Loved it then – the War of Roses and King Richard, the forts and moats, bows and horses. Later, the world of English/French classics opened up for me, thanks to my maths teacher, YM Joghee, and a wonderfully stocked school library. For Tamil novels, there was a compact Government library. I travelled around the world, underneath the sea, escaped from prisons, got onto time machines, fought the aliens, found the treasures and mines, robbed the rich and served the poor.
4. Award Dictionary – Is there any rule that prohibits dictionaries from entering books lists? I was used to getting books as gifts from Joghee sir. But this was one of the two books, which he recommended me to buy at a book exhibition. It was a helpful companion for many years. The dictionary had some useful appendices, and I knew the sequence of American Presidents and British Prime Ministers by heart…something to boast about, at school.
5. The Complete Works of Shakespeare – this is the other book that Joghee Sir recommended me to buy. One summer vacation – I think I had just completed my ninth standard – I would take out our wired chair, which had a nice slanting backrest, lay it outside the veranda, close to the street, under the neem tree, and read for over a month. I can’t say for sure, if I was hoping that the passers-by would be wowed. But I managed to finish all but two plays (36 out of 38)! Don’t ask me how much I remember. Othello was my favorite play and Iago the favorite character (largely because he didn’t reform at the end). Only the Satan of Paradise Lost was as charming.
6. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens – Was it because of the book itself, or the serial on DD – I adored Pip and Estella, Joe and the escaped convict. I think it must be the serial. I enjoyed all the other Dickens’ novels, which I read, equally if not more.
7. பொன்னியின் செல்வன், கல்கி (The son of Ponni, Kalki Krishnamurthy) – Walter Scott and Alexander Dumas were amongst the most favorite writers of my childhood. Kalki matched them, and in my opinion, exceeded them. Every Wednesday, I would go to our petty-kadai (petty shop or பெட்டிக் கடை?), wait for the Kalki magazine to arrive, read the weekly episode of Ponniyin Selvan standing there or while walking back home. Vanthiya Thevan and Nandini, as sketched by Manian, are etched in my memory. There is not another book that I’ve read, where I remember as many names as from Ponniyin Selvan.
8. Sujatha – Cannot pinpoint any single work of Sujatha (that maybe his failing too). But he was a big influence for a long time. I’ll easily credit Sujatha for my early interest in computers. How many amongst us who grew up in Tamilnadu in the 80s on a generous diet of mainstream Tamil magazines, wouldn’t?
9. மௌனியின் சிறுகதைகள் (Mouni’s Short Stories) – Found this book in our local library. I remember how stunned my father was – largely because even he had to admit that Jayakanthan was not the be all and end all of Tamil literature. If there is any book that I can flaunt to show that my childhood taste was more refined than what some of the books in this list portray, it has to be this.
10. A far-left biography of Bhagat Singh – I used to say, “We need a leader like Netaji” at every elocution contest during the school days. Bhagat Singh, and the many other revolutionaries mentioned in this book, also became heroes for me. Thanks to this book, I came to hate Gandhi so much, that I turned vegetarian, just to see if I can do as well, what that ‘old pretender’ did. It took me over 20 years, before I discovered the true Gandhi.
11. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy – This was probably the last book that I read before joining college. A romantic masterpiece is what I felt then.
12. War and peace, Leo Tolstoy – Inspired by Anna Karenina, War and Peace became the first book that I bought with my first ever earnings (for some survey work we did for our college), But while Anna took 2-3 days of rapturous reading to finish, War and Peace took 2-3 years. It was inspiring, thought-provoking and often, dreary. But finish, I did. It became an important literary badge to wear.
13. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand – I think I am now almost at the opposite spectrum of what Ayn Rand stood for. But I must admit that her books fascinated me at the age when I read them.
After college, my reading pattern changed. I started buying books, and relied less on libraries and friends (am back to libraries, now). The significant ‘best lists’ and reviews on internet became initial guides to picking up good books.
Here is a top of the mind, and by no means, representative or exhaustive list of fictional works.
1. Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky
2. புயலிலே ஒரு தோணி, ப.சிங்காரம் (Puyalile Oru Thoni, Pa.Singaram)
3. 18வது அட்சக்கோடு, அசோகமித்திரன் (18th Parallel, Ashokamitran)
4. புதுமைப்பித்தன் சிறுகதைகள் (Pudumaipithan Short stories)
5. ஐந்நூறு கோப்பைத் தட்டுகள் (சிறுகதைத் தொகுப்பு, குறிப்பாக, பிராயணம், புலிக்கலைஞன்) – அசோகமித்திரன் (Short Stories, Ashokamitran)
6. Gora, Ghare Baire – Rabindranath Tagore
7. ஜேஜே சில குறிப்புகள், சுந்தர ராமசாமி (JJ:Some Jottings, Sundara Ramaswami)
8. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
9. கோவேறு கழுதைகள் – இமையம் (Beasts of Burden, Imayam)
10. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
11. திசைகளின் நடுவே (சிறுகதைத் தொகுப்பு) – ஜெயமோகன் (Short stories, Jeyamohan)
12. வாடிவாசல் – சி.சு.செல்லப்பா (Vaadivasal: Arena; CS Chellappa)
13. விஷ்ணுபுரம் – ஜெயமோகன் (Vishnupuram, Jeyamohan)
14. Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov
15. Blindness – Jose Saramago
16. The Stranger – Albert Camus
17. வண்ணநிலவன் சிறுகதைகள் (Short stories, Vannanilavan)
18. அம்மா வந்தாள், மோக முள் – தி.ஜானகிராமன் (Amma Vandaal, Moha Mul – Thi.Janakiraman)
19. Love in the time of Cholera, Garcia Marquez
20. Various plays, Oscar Wilde
21. A House for Mr.Biswas – V.S.Naipaul
22. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
23. பொய்த் தேவு – க.நா.சு (Poi Thevu, Ka. Naa. Subramanyam)
24. சாயா வனம் – சா.கந்தசாமி (Chayavanam, Sa.Kandasamy)
25. Blind Assassins – Margaret Atwood
26. Thirst for Love – Yukio Mishima
27. Animal Farm – George Orwell
I don’t see an end in sight for this list – I could go on. I might keep revisiting this list, and editing it to add names that I missed out, or to add more books that I read.
Special mention :
1.Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky – This is a book that I stopped reading midway, since it drew me inside a cave which I didn’t want to enter and held out a mirror that I didn’t want to look into.
2. வண்ணதாசன் முன்னுரைகள் (Forewords of Vannadasan) – I bought many of his short story collections, primarily because I was fascinated by his forewords.
3. Tweets and blogs – Payon (பேயோன்) – His brand of satire and humor are very unique to Tamil.
4. The various lists and reviews of Jeyamohan, which led me to many of the modern Tamil and other Indian writers.
Now, finally, to the books that truly shaped and influenced me:
1. Thirukkural, Thiruvalluvar
2. My Experiments with Truth – Gandhi
3. One Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukuoka
4. The Story of Nai Talim – Marjori Sykes
5. பாரதியார் கவிதைகள் (Poems of Subramaniya Bharathi)
6. என் சரித்திரம் – உ.வே.சா (My History, U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer)
7. Ghaffar Khan : Non-violent Badshah, Rajmohan Gandhi
8. Mohandas : A True story of A Man, his People and an Empire – Rajmohan Gandhi
9. Satyagraha in South Africa – Gandhi
10. Hind Swaraj – Gandhi (and many other books on and by, or related to, Gandhi and Gandhians)
11. Biographies of Bharathi – Yadugiri Ammal, Va.Ra, Chellammal.
12. Essential writings of B.R.Ambedkar – Valerian Rodrigues
13. Dhammapada – Buddha
14. Economy of Permanence – J.C. Kumarappa
15. Unto the Last – John Ruskin
16. On Civil Disobedience – Thoreau
Thiruvalluvar and Gandhi came together to nudge me to do what I am doing now. Similarly, over a single train journey, I saw Fukuoka and Gandhi (through Marjorie Sykes) combine to urge me to take the next step.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating, if I say (it is not that I am saying this with pride), books made me.