All for a good laugh

This has been quite the toughest post to write. Each time I have gone to my bookshelf to figure out that veteran among veterans I have been found by my children a long time later sitting cross-legged on the floor with a pile of books around me and one open on my lap. Sometimes they’ve found me giggling uncontrollably, sometimes smiling gently and sometimes with tears in my eyes. Wodehouse, Huxley, Austen, Harper Lee, the Brontes, Margaret Mitchell – who’s been with me the longest?

Pages from childhood: Piggly plays truant...
Talking technically, the oldest books around my house are for the youngest of readers. Piggly Plays Truant, Billy Goats, Cinderella all of my old favourites, were rediscovered and claimed by my four-year-olds at their nani’s house last year. However they have now moved to the kids’ cupboard and so are no longer in the running.

Technicalities aside, the book that’s been closest to my heart for the longest of time (and is still in my cupboard) is one by Gerald Durrel called My Family and Other Animals. It’s quite the funniest of books I’ve ever read. It came to me as part of our school curriculum about a quarter of a century ago in 1985 and has since then stayed with me.

The favourite

Set in Corfu, Greece, the book is an autobiographical account and talks about young Gerry, a natural history enthusiast.. hence the title. The book is peppered with hilarious characters starting with Gerry himself. He keeps a series of peculiar pets including Roger the dog, two pups Widdle and Puke (what’s in a name, yes… but Widdle and Puke?), Achilles the tortoise who loves strawberries, Ulysses the brave owl who would ‘unhesitatingly attack anything and everyone’, a gecko Geromino who ate up Gerry’s other pet Cecily the mantis and Quasimodo the ugly pigeon who thought he wasn’t a bird at all and refused to fly preferring to walk.

Gerry doesn’t think twice before putting his pet snakes in the bathtub when they get dehydrated or housing a family of scorpions in the matchbox. Of course he forgets to inform the rest of the family to hilarious effect.

His family is no less interesting. There’s Larry the littérateur who once set the house on fire quite literally, Leslie who can think of nothing but guns and pistols, Margo who has the uncanny ability to find the most unsuitable of suitors and his harried yet extremely patient mother with a passion for cooking and gardening.

There are scores of other characters too. Some completely lovable and others you are tempted to clobber on the head but I’ll leave you to read about them yourself.

Initially I skipped the parts dedicated to natural history enjoying just the human characters marveling at their eccentricities laughing at the troubles they got themselves into. Much later I delved into the other life forms that Gerry is passionate about and he taught me to enjoy and appreciate them just as much as he did.

Trapdoor spiders, mating turtles, sparkling fireflies, geckos, swallows, magpies -- enchanting treasures, all of them. Even now, years later, I open the book randomly and read it for a good laugh.

Interestingly, I lost the book in one my numerous moves across the country. Such was my yearning for it and so much must I have complained about the loss that my then roomie finally ordered, yes ordered it, as a surprise for my birthday, because it was not readily available. And so it came back to me. Friends really are the best.

For the record I have no intentions of giving it away to anyone. I am however game to share/lend it on a strictly returnable basis…. unless of course Gerry decides to go the Cinderella way and finds his way to the kids’ cupboard. Then of course I’ll have no say in the matter.

Incidentally I owe a lot of books to good friends and a doting aunt. Pocket money was an unheard of concept back in my childhood and gifts were scarce. So if a friend gifted a book it was/is cherished forever. Then we had our aunt. Each year she would come to spend the summer with us and each year she’d give us the option of choosing between new clothes and new books. We’d pick books without fail. I remember craving for Gone with the Wind for a long time till my aunt took me shopping. It was priced at Rs 60 and I just couldn’t bring myself to ask her for such an expensive gift. Fortunately she saw me lusting at it and bought it for me. It remains a favorite even today. That year was exceptionally lucky as she also gifted me some other favourites including Far from the Madding Crowd and Wuthering Heights.

Yet I pick Gerry’s adventures as my favourite solely for their ability to make me laugh. I do so like to laugh.

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