My companion, the compendium

by Roopinder Singh

A new city, new school, new house and no friends. Amritsar did not have much to offer when I first went there as a Class VIII student in 1973. Before I made friends with my fellow students, I found another friend, a compendium of information that became my constant companion.

My parents had shifted to Amritsar, and it was my routine to cycle down to the Golden Temple to meet my father, Giani Gurdit Singh, every day, via Hall Bazaar. Near Hall Gate there were many second-hand book stores and there I found that I could get more than enough reading material from them.

Given my pocket money, I found that most cost-effective was a copy of the Readers’ Digest for 50 paise. I would pick them up by the dozen and rush home to go through them…till the next time. What a world it opened for me! My vocabulary was shaped by Word Power and much of my perception has been influenced by the collection of uplifting features, comforting anecdotes that formed the part of every issue of Readers’ Digest.

My mother, Mrs Inderjit Kaur, was Principal, Government College for Women, and just near it was St. Francis School, where I studied. For me, Readers’ Digest was the world encapsulated in a small book-like magazine. By now, the dealers knew me and would holler whenever they had new stock. It was in Amritsar that I managed to build up a collection of Readers’ Digest dating back to 1960, the year I was born. It was small treasure, to be browsed, to savour, to learn from and to possess.

Moving from the magazine to Readers’ Digest Condensed Books was logical progression and I will forever be grateful to the exposure to literature they gave me. My collection increased, as did my friends who would read and discuss them with me. Many of them turned out to be my mother’s colleagues, particularly Gurdev Kaur, who later married a person who successfully runs a big book store in Chandigarh.

Within two years I had finished off about 13 years of back issues, and it was time to leave the city which was no longer new, but familiar; a school where I knew everyone; a house which had become a home and my many friends.

The shift from Amritsar to Patiala also spelt the end of an intense engagement with Readers’ Digest. When we moved, the cartons that had my precious cache of the magazine were misplaced. I would still read the magazine whenever a new issue came out, but I no longer had my treasure trove.

Today, when I read about Readers’ Digest Association filing for bankruptcy in the US, I realised that millions of others have stories like this to tell of the debt they owe to this great magazine.

The article was published in The Tribune on August 25, 2009.

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