There was this small library and reading room near my house in Trivandrum where I grew up. I started visiting the place to read about Kapil Dev’s antics in county cricket in The Hindu. Then I realised I could take back one book at a time to read at home. That opened up a world of Bram Stocker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Kottayam Pushpanath. Of course you have heard of the first three and am certain that you don’t know a thing about Kottayam Pushpanath and what he could do to a teenager in a small town in far flung Kerala. Kottayam Pushpanath introduced me to the wild world of detective Marxin and detective Pushparaj. These guys drove sports cars through the Carpathian Mountain ranges and solved mysteries while instilling in me the wonderful thing called wanderlust.
Much later in life I read somewhere that Kottyam Pushpanath never travelled outside India and he researched used copies of National Geographic to write those scintillating adventures. Mind you, all this reading was in Malayalam – including blood chilling Dracula stories and adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot. Now that I have read the originals, I can say that they were badly translated. But back then, they meant the world to me.
I loved machines and there was hardly anything to read about them except for couple of automotive magazines in their infancy. One day my cousin offered me the periodicals card for the British Library in Trivandrum (closed now) and that meant I could read the latest Autocar and Flight magazines. I read every page and every line from cover stories to classifieds and that changed my life for ever. I wanted to become a motoring journalist and nothing was to stop me from attaining this goal. Five years of law college be damned. Power of special interest periodicals? You bet.
Call it peer pressure, I went through a phase of trying to read books that were popular amongst students. I never could finish Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance and never went more than 30 pages of Catch 22. When Arundhati Roy was the rage, I tried reading her Booker Prize winner and failed to complete that too. I have picked up the odd Grisham and Forsyth to tackle two-day train journeys but never really got hooked.
“Collecting books and displaying them, is akin to the display of trophy skulls by a cannibal at his home”-Bijoy Kumar Y
A friend introduced me to Bill Bryson and I have read everything that he has written. I think he can write about a glass of water and still make it interesting. His travel writing influenced me big time and I have recommended his books to many aspiring journalists and writers. My favourite? Down Under. Clive Cussler and Dan Brown was another phase that I enjoyed tremendously. As far as automotive writing goes, Jeremy Clarkson with all his irreverence ranks first in my list followed by the humour and satire of PJ O’Rourke.
My father, who has been writing chemistry-related stories for children, recently published a collection of short stories in Malayalam. On a whim I decided to translate them. This was an incredible experience for me as a writer as it soon became a journey through my father’s mind at different stages of his life. I would have never fully understood the man but for this translation experience.
If there is one genre of books that I abhor, it is the self-help type. I think self-help books are meant to park your laptops at the right height.
Currently I am reading The Wrong Way Home by Peter Moore – it was the cheapest travel writing I could find on Amazon. Though I have a small collection of automotive reference books at office, I don’t have many books at home. Once I read a book, I am far too eager to pass it on to someone else. I do end up missing some books because of this habit – but there is always Amazon.in. Collecting books and displaying them, is akin to the display of trophy skulls by a cannibal at his home. At least in my book.
Bombay-based Bijoy Kumar Y is the former editor of Business Standard Motoring. He is now Chief – Adventure Initiatives and Senior GM (automotive division) at Mahindra & Mahindra
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