In the latest edition of our feature about inspirational, life changing books, Renita D'Silva chooses the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm, and tells us why receiving them was such an important moment in her life. Renita's book, Monsoon Memories, was published on 21st June 2013.
The moment has arrived.
Sunlight slanting in through
the window swirls the dust on the suitcase, making it glitter and twinkle like
the necklace on our aunt’s throat on display at Christmas. My father painstakingly
tries to unknot the string holding the suitcase together while the three of us
skip around him, crowding him, unable to stand still. I am six years old, my
sister five and brother three. My dad has come from Rajasthan where he works
most of the year for his annual two month holiday. He will gorge on sardines
and seafood, go for long walks and teach maths at the local college: his idea
of bliss. We are not interested in any of this of course. What we want are the
contents of the suitcase, the luxuries that might be in store for us- the unspecified,
longed for treats on the basis of which we have been behaving for our mother these
past few months: ‘You better do this or else you will not get a thing that your
And finally our anticipation is
to be rewarded… What has he brought?
The suitcase falls open,
releasing a cavalcade of dust, the smell of moth balls and secrets. The treasure looks disappointingly like clothes.
A couple of shirts- lined, boring, too big for us. Hiding under them, a pair of
dark blue trousers, shimmering velvet in the sun. They come out as well. And
then, for my brother, a ball: multi-coloured hexagons grinning. ‘Bol, bol,’ he
says, gathering it in his arms, flashing his gap-toothed grin. And he’s off,
followed by the dog who bounds up to him, slobbery tongue hanging out in expectation
of a game. My brother holds the ball aloft, gives the dog a look of pure scorn:
For my sister, a peacock
feather. Gold, green, turquoise. Glinting, glimmering, all-seeing. She holds it
up next to her eye, then launches herself at our dad for a hug. ‘Ah,’ he says,
smiling, ‘that’s not all.’ A book of pictures. Hard bound, beautiful. I sigh. I
want that. I have just started to read on my own. I reach to touch the book. She
pulls it away, tucks her peacock feather in its folds.
My father smiles up at me- that
dimpled smile I so wish he had bequeathed upon me. ‘And for you, as you said in
your last letter that you can read on your own now…’ He pulls out a package. Brown
wrapping. Thick. I eagerly tear it
apart. And out fall a set of six books. Gleaming. Precious. Anderson and Grimm
Fairy Tales. Each book has pictures on one side: blond princesses, evil
witches, handsome princes. The other side has writing. The smell of fresh ink,
of newness, of promise. I thank my father, take my prized bundle and disappear
to my favourite spot under the mango tree, hidden within its folds, facing away
from the house – and open the first book. I do not hear my mother calling me
for lunch. I do not notice my stomach growling, the mangoes falling beside me
with a thud and a squelch, the mosquitoes feasting on unprotected flesh, the
air charged with the smell of over-ripe fruit. I am far away, in a different, more
exotic world. I am the princess, the witch, the clown, the pauper.
I lose myself then, within the
pages of a book, for the first time of many.
Those books move with me from
house to house, until the pages fall apart.
Thirty years later, on a rain
pierced, wind battered morning in May, I answer the door to the UPS delivery
man, who holds out a beige cardboard box: ‘Parcel for you.’ I slit it open with
fingers that refuse to do my bidding, gently cradle the book in my hands. The
smell of fresh ink, of newness, of promise. Instantly I am transported five thousand
miles away to a bug riddled, mango scented, sweat drenched afternoon when my
father gave me a gift and with it, the freedom to dream, to travel, to explore,
to live a thousand varied exciting lives.
My tears make the book I am
holding shimmer and sparkle like river water during a summer shower. A little
girl looking heaven-ward, a hazy backdrop of rain. Renita D’Silva it says.