Early memories of reading in Kathmandu

I want to read at least 25 books this year, which would mean an average of two books a month, a realistic feat considering that I work full time and have a newborn. My love affair with books started when I was young. Some of my precious memories from childhood are that of sunny afternoons curled up in the terrace with a good book. At that time library in Kathmandu was a rarity, these were few and far between.

There was the grand and intimidating British Council housed in a beautiful white washed Rana palace at a walking distance from my home. Thick hard cover books mostly from strange mostly British writers lined up the walls. There was plush carpet, computers for use that were always occupied, and glass doors that led to a hushed silence and tantalizing opportunities for overseas studies. I knew from talking to friends and families and a job at one of these libraries were highly coveted.

One my earliest memories from the British council is that of a friendly Newar reed thin man with thick black mustache who looked down at me and said ‘did you actually read all these books? You just checked them out yesterday; we haven’t yet entered these into our system’. Yes I had read them; I chose the thin skinned abridged versions of the classics that were easy to read.

Then much later my best friend introduced me to American Women of Nepal (AWON) library run by AWON that was casual and appealing to my age group compared to the British Council. The library was housed in one of those modern buildings right next to a main traffic line. I remember it like yesterday, the library was housed in the second floor, you had to take off your shoes and put it in one of the brown cubby holes, and you walked into the reception area.

I learned much later that the library itself was mostly run by volunteers, students from one of those prestigious schools who could speak in English and who were honing up their resumes to apply to foreign schools. There was only one paid employee and his name was Ram dai a soft spoken friendly man with pock marks on his face. Ram dai lived somewhere near my neighborhood, I started running into him, shy painful hellos started turning into warm conversations.

After registration I was given 5 paper pockets and an identification card. I could check out five books at a time, the librarian would take the book card and insert it into the pocket with my name and keep it in his files. He would then stamp the return date onto a paper sheet attached onto the last page of the book. Much later when I myself joined the library as a volunteer to get a free membership and yes to hone my resume to apply to schools overseas, the paper cataloging was replaced by an electronic system.

AWON introduced me to Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie; famous five and yes Mills and Boons romance. Right before schools closed for winter recess, my dad would take me on his red motor bike and dispose me in front of the library, I had 15 minutes to find books and check them out. Most days tired of waiting he would come upstairs and find me locked into the painful indecision on which book to take home. The sweet anticipation of 5 books waiting to be devoured was one of the few things that I looked forward to in my childhood.

Books and reading has since then been a constant companion for me. These have helped me get through some of the toughest points in my life and taught me how to be my own best friend. Over the course of time my tastes changed, I discovered my love for travel writing and non-fiction spiritual writing and self-help books. I try to think of that exact moment in life where I knew that I enjoyed readings, there is not one particular moment but several small incidents that come to mind.

The yearly trip to the bookstore in Kalimati at the one and only Ekta book store in Kathmandu would end up with me browsing the story book aisles while my mother worked with the store clerk on getting together the yearly school supplies. One time my mother splurged and bought two non-school books for us mine was sleeping beauty and my sister picked the ginger bread man. That was my very first story book that I owned.

Another time my grandfather who was on the board of an all boy’s boarding school in phurping right outside Kathmandu took us there for a visit. The school sent us a mustard green jeep for pick up. When we arrived there at the headmaster’s modes one floor living accommodation, I discovered there a room full of books. These books were donated by foreigners with good intentions. The headmaster seeing my amazement said I could pick out two books to take home with me. I picked a fat red book with a collection of fairy tales thinking that these would last me for a long time.

There are several such memories. I want my daughter to enjoy reading and I dig through my memory lane to find a pattern or dig up a formula that would get her hooked to reading. I haven’t come up with any so far- my father never finished high school and does not like to read; my mother finished her graduate degree but I have not seen her read for pleasure. None of them spent time with us to get us to read but they did the best they could with the limited resources we had at the time and plenty of encouragement to nurture my love for reading. And I want to do the same for my daughter.

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