I always preferred rainy days to bright ones, so that we could stay indoors at recess, sit in the hallway, and concentrate.But even on nice days I found somewhere to sit, under a tree or on the ledge of the sandbox, with this friend, and sometimes one or two others, to continue the work on our tale.
My mother did so, and also wrote the word “mother” to indicate that the book had been given to me by her, though I did not call her Mother but Ma. But she had given me a book that, nearly forty years later, still dwells on a bookcase in my childhood room.
Our house was not devoid of things to read, but the offerings felt scant, and were of little interest to me.
I remember coveting and eventually being permitted to own a book for the first time. The book was diminutive, about four inches square, and was called “You’ll Never Have to Look for Friends.” It lived among the penny candy and the Wacky Packs at the old-fashioned general store across the street from our first house in Rhode Island.
The plot was trite, more an extended greeting card than a story.
He would lie back on a bed and prop me up on his chest and invent things to tell me.
I am told that the two of us stayed up long after everyone else had gone to sleep, and that my grandfather kept extending these stories, because I insisted that they not end.We would sit together, this friend and I, dreaming up characters and plots, taking turns writing sections of the story, passing the pages back and forth.Our handwriting was the only thing that separated us, the only way to determine which section was whose.What I really sought was a better-marked trail of my parents’ intellectual lives: bound and printed evidence of what they’d read, what had inspired and shaped their minds. But my parents did not read to me or tell me stories; my father did not read any fiction, and the stories my mother may have loved as a young girl in Calcutta were not passed down.My first experience of hearing stories aloud occurred the only time I met my maternal grandfather, when I was two, during my first visit to India.So that, in the beginning, writing, like reading, was less a solitary pursuit than an attempt to connect with others.I did not write alone but with another student in my class at school.And so I felt not only that I was trespassing but also that I was, in some sense, betraying the people who were raising me.When I began to make friends, writing was the vehicle.And yet when a book was in my possession, and as I read it, this didn’t matter.I entered into a pure relationship with the story and its characters, encountering fictional worlds as if physically, inhabiting them fully, at once immersed and invisible.