When I was around four years old, my family and I moved to Mt Abu where we lived in a huge house called Eagle’s Nest, perched on a small hill. Apart from the other aspects of the place, I remember the books I read there, in different corners of the house, or on a rock in the garden. Among the earliest books, two were my favourites, Whose Little Bird am I?, and a book about a koala bear named Wish. The second was one I liked so much, that I requested twelve live Koala bears as a present for Christmas. I am not sure why despite living in India and not being Christians I was writing a letter to Father Christmas [no Santa Claus those days]. Was it because of the Catholic school I was going to? Or was it a family tradition, a remnant of British days?
My mother, a well-known writer used to review books for both adults and children, and many of my favourites were among those, perhaps Wish had arrived as a book for review, the year would be 1958. She also wrote about the oddities of her children, and my request for twelve koala bears formed one of her articles.
Looking up the internet I found Whose Little Bird am I. It is by Leonard Weisgard, and a second edition is still available on Amazon. But I could not find anything about Wish, the koala. I located a good site for old children’s books, www.oldchildrensbooks.com, but there was nothing there on Wish.
So if anyone who reads this knows about this book, do let me know.
These two books remained my favourites, even as I progressed to more complex reading, including Enid Blyton, James Barrie’s Peter Pan, A.A. Milne’s Pooh books and poems, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. I still remember the horror I felt while reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Apart from these classics there were many more, including Wild Animals I have Known, that had several sad stories, fairy tales from across the world, poems, stories of all kinds. In non-fiction I was fascinated by The Buildings of Ancient Egypt and the Golden Book of Astronomy.
We moved from there when I was around eight or nine. Before that I had started on adult fiction. The very first adult book I read was called Capitan China. I never forgot it as for an eight-year old or perhaps eight-and-a-half, it was fascinating and scary. Looking it up on the net I found it was by Susan Yorke, first published in 1961, it must have been one of my mother’s review books that I picked up. If I remember right, this was about a Malay peasant girl, planting rice, who looks up, finds that no one observes her, and decides to walk away. Many adventures follow, she lands up in a brothel, is sold to some king or chief, has to make a journey across the seas to him, and along the journey has an Italian guard–he teaches her about the world, answers her simple questions on life and god, and they fall in love. Was his name Cavileri? Perhaps. Anyway reaching their destination, she is given to Cavileri as a gift by the king, they are married [?], but she has this horrid job of counting heads in some war, and as Cavileri is fighting in the war,she one day gets his cut off head. Going off in grief into the jungle, she is bitten by a snake and dies. I remember this book as its powerful story haunted me for many years, and I reread it several times, though perhaps if I had read it as an adult, it would not have meant much.
On the net I find Susan Yorke was born 24 March 1915 in Mannheim, Germany, moved to Australia in 1965, and died 4 May 1997 in Sydney, New South Wales. She wrote thirteen books.