Read With Me: Outside of a dog, a book is a child’s best friend

Rishi Verma writes about being a late starter to reading books and how he missed out on them for the first 18 years of his life.


Rishi Verma writes about being a late starter to reading books and how he missed out on them for the first 18 years of his life.

I’ll never forget the first piece of fiction I ever read. It was a book called Creature Teacher in R L Stine’s Goosebumps 2000 series. But I was born 16 years before this book was published and read it only by the time I was 18. In other words, I have no childhood memories of reading, discounting text books that is.

Pic: John Blyberg

Why? Because – at least where I came from – reading outside of textbooks was not just an extra spend, it was also a waste of time. The belief was that you’d never be using any ‘information’ from ‘those’ books in your life. So why waste time and money on them? Why not try and remember the Pythagoras Theorem instead? Or better still, rote the entire Moral Science text book. There was also Science 1 and 2, along with Civics to remember. Why not try and get better marks instead?

If it were just the parents forcing this opinion at home, it would have been alright. But what happens when teachers at school want nothing to do with teaching, but only memorising? What does a child do when all around him are only reasons to not read?

More often than not, the child believes. The student conforms. And he doesn’t think highly of books because those scraps of paper is ‘information’ to him that he will never use in his life. So he doesn’t read. And he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Until one day, when he’s sitting with friends over a class project, and they start talking about Enid Blyton. He furrows his brow and wonders who this person is and why everyone is so excited about her (or is it him?). He nods along in agreement with the others, all the time trying to jot that name down in memory and at a later point find out about it. His beliefs about books start shaking. And he finally lands up at the scrap dealer next to his chawl, pays a couple of rupees and gets a tattered paperback edition of Creature Teacher.

At first, he doesn’t quite get it. There are some very big words. And the sentences, unlike in his textbooks, are sometimes complicated. But he feels something. A sort of excitement he’s only felt in the final overs of the inter-colony cricket matches. And he wonders why that’s happening. At dinner, and at school, he finds himself thinking of the book and what’s going to happen next. He wants to read more. And he does that.

He gets different books from that old scrap dealer. Some he doesn’t like. But there are others he feels a deep connect with. He reads about different kinds of people. About places he never knew existed. About feelings he hadn’t experienced before. He feels he’s more open to listening, rather than just rattling off in conversations. He believes he’s a little more knowledgeable about ‘stuff’ than he was before. He believes that he’s opened up the doors to something that can never be explained in words. Though words are what he loves.

Years later, he’s so deeply in love with reading that he chooses to write himself. He believes that one day someone might read his books with just as much interest. And with that act, perhaps begin to understand things better, be a little more open, a touch more sensitive. And he revels in his dream.

Yet, he wishes he’d read more. He wishes those 18 years hadn’t gone by without reading a single thing of import. And he wishes that more parents and teachers would understand this. That a book, more than a PlayStation or an iPad, is what a child needs. That the little gems that hide between sentences, and not just the formulae in his math book, are what help the child grow. That, though entirely clichéd, it is true that outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. And a child’s.

Pic: John Blyberg / Flickr CC Attribution license 

This is part of the August Read With Me special series on children reading for a better tomorrow. 

As parents, educators, readers and writers, we know how important it is to get children – from infants to young adults – to be readers, and readers for life. Read With Me all this month looks to encourage children to read more. We are also talking about reading that goes much beyond a good tale – as vibrant, fun and effective ways to get children to connect to themselves, their roots, accept difference, understand people and places and be more sensitive. All of August, The Alternative says Read With Me – read more and read for change.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rishi Verma is 29. He is a writer by profession, and by choice. To pay his bills, he works in advertising. To bring peace to his life, he writes fiction, strums the guitar tunelessly and reads like a maniac. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rishi Verma is 29. He is a writer by profession, and by choice. To pay his bills, he works in advertising. To bring peace to his life, he writes fiction, strums the guitar tunelessly and reads like a maniac. more
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