One late afternoon I was at a bookstore in Birmingham, England, clutching Lee Child’s thriller Night School, featuring long-running character Jack Reacher. I was there just for the signing, with an awards ceremony awaiting me that evening in Manchester, a two-hour train ride away. But how often can a girl surprise her father with a birthday dedication from a favorite author?
Until I was about six years old, my father, a surgeon, made sure he was home every night to read to me and my little sister. He adapted the comic characters Asterix and Obelix for our enjoyment and performed the stories, aware that we would appreciate their subtleties only later. It was my first experience with the power of storytelling.
As a 10 year old, visiting Crossword bookstore in South Mumbai became a biannual tradition for me, my sister, and Dad. We would return with bags of books and retire to different corners of the living room. My father doesn’t go out of his way to talk; instead, he prefers being lost in a book or his music, while simultaneously being around “his people.” Reading became the perfect way for us to spend some quality time together. Not to mention discussing the books later. It’s when he’s at his most talkative.
Today, studying in Boston, I’m the farthest I’ve been from home, and there are overwhelming days and moments. Talking to my parents has always helped, but it’s not until recently that I’ve realised how different the interactions are. I’ll tell Mum everything in detail, and she’ll talk me through it, while Dad’s a mostly silent but fully attentive and supportive presence in the background. But there is always that moment when Mum hands Dad the phone. That’s our signal to shut out the world for one that is just us and the books we’re reading.
This isn’t to say that we don’t talk otherwise; just that often, we relate to life through books, and his advice will include literary references that only we will get.
The Lord of the Rings was how we first navigated the topics of inevitable loss, goodbyes, hard choices, the shades of grey, and the wisdom of hope. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was my first adult introduction to logic, deduction, and keeping a cool intellect under pressure. Bertie Wooster & Jeeves and Summer Moonshine by Sir PG Wodehouse taught me the importance of seeing the light in the worst of situations, and even now when I’m down, Dad will read a passage from his books, whether in person or on Skype. Lee Child whets our need for vicarious adventure where good always triumphs, while, lately, teaching us that even our heroes are mortal and fallible. Recently, I finally entered a world that effortlessly combines it all – the Discworld – and Dad’s thrilled to share another beloved series with me that has shaped him and the way he looks at life. Falling in love with his favorites on my own terms has been a bonus.
When he read to my sister and me all those years ago, we didn’t know how big this love for books would be for us, between us. We didn’t know that I would study abroad or live in four countries; that book by book, author by author, I would find my place and my voice; that I would be a writer. Without books, most of our conversations might be me talking and him listening, something that the disconnect of modern technology could easily have worsened. Instead, our love for words continues to comfort and bind us across the seas.
As I stand across the table from Lee Child in Birmingham and spell out Dad’s name (“Anand” aptly means happiness), it feels like the culmination of a part of our story and the beginning of another (with the next Reacher, of course).
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