I must confess, most abashedly, that the child is not a reader. No sirree, he is not. He has more books that I care to count; from Roald Dahl and Geronimo Stilton to the Goosebumps and Percy Jackson series, but they primarily perform the decorative function of padding up the sideboard next to the dining table, which, if not utilised so, would find itself a dumping ground for all the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. His friends drop by, go goggle-eyed at the collection of books he has and look at him with newfound awe and respect. The books, they lie neglected, dejected, calling out to be read in piteous voices only I can hear, and sometimes I cave in and end up reading them myself.
When I think back to my childhood, fragments of which I remember from the brief intervals during which I raised my head from whatever book I happened to be reading; I realise that this acorn has fallen rather far from my tree. Perhaps he's taken after the Y chromosome donor. The spouse too was a complete non-reader, until I came into his life and corrupted him. Now, we spend our evenings in polite camaraderie, our respective noses buried in our books-fiction for me, non-fiction for him. Given that there is so much reading going on in the household, one would have thought it would be natural to spot the child, filling up the blank arm chair between the two of us, with his nose buried deep in a Geronimo Stilton. Obviously, I've done something very wrong. I have not raised a reader.
When I think back to his early days, I believe I tried. God knows I tried. I bought the squeaky books, the textured books, the board books, the fabric books, the pop-up books, the flap books, the bath books, the first-alphabet books, the god-knows-what-all books, which he proceeded to calmly disembowel, strewing the entrails all over the immediate premises. I should have known then, that the choice of spectator sport would inevitably be WWE; but I was young and naïve and a first-time parent. I had hopes. I persevered, I read to him, I spoke to him about reading. I sat with him, whip in hand, until he finished a page. I bribed, I gave away gold stars for privileges on every page finished. I, although I'm deeply ashamed to say it, made him watch the movie before the book in desperation, for him to at least know the story of some classics. In moments of utter weakness and deep, dank despair, I have even resorted to audio books, never mind if I had to tie him kicking and squealing to his Spiderman chair to listen to them. But no matter what I did, the love for the printed word didn't manifest itself in the brat.
You would not be far off the mark if you said I took this as a personal failure. I did the requisite hair-pulling and chest-beating and howling act before I gave up completely on trying to compel the child to be a reader. I looked at other children his age, wandering around, their eyes dreamy because they were still in Harry Potter-land, trying hard to readjust to the drabness of being in Muggle world, and sighed gale-force winds. Just when I had given up all hope, things changed a wee bit. Not earth-shatteringly, but enough to make me rush to Flipkart and order a slew of books.
What happened to the child was peer pressure. His friends were reading. And discussing the books they read. He was standing haplessly on the sidelines with no inputs to the conversation. He came home that day and demanded I procure the entire set of Captain Underpants for him. I rushed shrieking into the stores brandishing my debit card and did so. He chuckled through them all and then demanded some more. What made the Captain Underpants series so tempting was that they were 'very bad.' Read: subversive to authority. Not the ideal book series I would have preferred him to start his reading career with, but I'm not being pushy. I've slipped in some Roald Dahls. I've brought him some of the classics. I'm not being pushy, I repeat, but I strew them all over the place, I offer him a book with his meal and stop short of doing cartwheels when I spot him picking one up and perusing through it with a disinterested gaze
Maybe he will become a reader, maybe he won't. Maybe he'll dance the funky chicken when I give away all the shelves full of books to charity, maybe he won't. But whatever he does, I hope he remembers his mom tried. She tried pretty damn hard to make him a reader. Because she so wanted him to experience the bliss she knows-that of getting lost in other worlds, other lives, and living them out, without needing to leave her chair.