Warning: A long self indulgent narcissistic post
The firs time I remember asking for a book was when I was 5 years old and waiting in Tuticorin Bus Stand along with my father. It was some comics that I wanted, he refused to buy it for me. For some reason that is one of the earliest memories I have.
Till my 2nd Standard I was content reading the school text books of higher class kids. My real exposure to books came during that summer holiday. My father had gone to Libya and we moved to Pudukkottai. My mother's village was near by and I spend that summer vacation there with no other kid in sight. To while away my time I went to the Library in the next street. The entire summer was spent devouring fairy tales and Ambuli Mama kind of books in Tamil. By now I was hooked and used to read any printed matter I could lay my hand upon. I started reading the serialised stories in Ananda Vikatan and Kumudam and the novels (?) published in Malaimathi. Once when my third standard class teacher missed the last part of Manian's serialised story, I told her the ending. She was shocked, the story was about extra marital affairs :-).
The next phase was the pocket crime novels which hit the Tamil publishing scene in mid 80s. Rajeshkumar, Pattukkottai Prabhakar and Suba were the trinities and I still remember their characters. After a year or so I felt bored and could predict the story line after the first few pages. There were a few novels that I read during this period that stood out from the crowd - Balakumaran's Karaiyora Mudhalaigal & Thayumanavan, Sivasankari's Tharaiyil Irangum Vimanangal, Sujatha's stories.
We moved to Madras when I was 13 years old. It was here that I read my first English fiction. It wasn't any classic novel but Sydney Sheldon's Windmills of Gods. I borrowed it from a neighbour who thought long about whether it was appropriate for me. Before I was 15 I had read almost all of Harold Robbins and Sydney Sheldon that were available in my Bengali Neighbour's book case. But the two books I remember vividly are the Victorian Erotica - Charles Deveraux's Venus in India (There is something about this book and Bongs. The only reference I have found so far in blogs about this book is in Sadoldbongand The Pearl(I found the entire collection online couple of years back, oh the joys of internet). I used to slip these away between two other innocuous books.
Four years of Engineering college in Kilakarai was dry and arid in terms of books. The entire hostel had some 10 guys who read English Fiction and a total of 20 paper backs. It was in college that I read my first war novel, War Cry by Leon Uris and thought of him as a great war novelist. The Architecture branch was opened in our college when I was in my second year of Engineering. The lecturer for Architecture told the class on the first day to read Ayn Rand's Fountainhead if they really wanted to become Architects. When I heard about this I was intrigued and borrowed the book from him, who belonged to the first batch of Architecture students in our college.
It was during a night shift in my first job that I got introduced to contemporary Tamil Literature by a senior engineer. Till then my Tamil Literature limit was Sujatha and Balakumaran. He introduced me to Thi Janakiaraman, Asokamithran, La Sa Ramamrutham and Sundara Ramasamy. To say it was a shock to me is an understatement. After years of reading mediocre stuff in Tamil, this was like a fresh breath to me. Next few years were spent in reading all the works of these authors.
By this time I had moved back to Chennai and started blogging in 2002. Blogging expanded my reading horizon. It was through blogs I learnt about and started reading authors like Borges, Marquez, Amitav Gosh, Vikram Seth and so on. At the same time Tamil blogs led me to Jeyamohan, Imayam, S Ramakrishnan, Adhavan, Pa Singaram, Nakulan and many others.
The above recollection was triggered after reading Umberto Eco's Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna, where an art dealer loses his memory but remembers all the books he has read and tries to recollect his life by re reading the books from his child hood. It is a self indulgent, meandering story, but you will enjoy it if you love books. One of the books he recollects is a comic set in India with a villainous king named Tremal Naik :-)