I had been in my first school for just about 10 days or so, when my teacher sent a note home for my mother to meet her. My mother was so worried about the note that she was at my school the next day at the crack of dawn much before the appointed time.
She needn’t have worried. My teacher had only called to rave about my excellent motor skills, my excellent hand-to-eye coordination, and the fact that I could do some simple addition as well as some mental maths. All this at the age of 5 years, 6 months, and some days ! I was apparently way ahead of the rest of my class. Was I some budding genius, she asked my mother hopefully? My mother, after the first reaction of relief, immediately squashed my teacher’s hopes. No, her daughter was no budding genius. She was just a little girl with an inordinate amount of interest in playing Pallankuzhi with her grandmother, which had led to the development of these skills. What is Pallankuzhi, my puzzled teacher asked?
Heidi was the first book ever purchased for me. I was about 6 or 7 years old at that time, the same age that Heidi is when her story begins. Heidi was also the 16th and the 73rd book bought for me. Yes, you read it right. Till date, I have owned 3 Heidi books and each one has a story attached to it.
Heidi-1 was with me for just a day. Raju, my maternal uncle, had just received his first pay cheque and in a fit of generosity decided to buy something for his 8 nephews and nieces. So what does he do? He goes and buys some books, one of which is Heidi. Only, Heidi is not one book here — it is a serialised version spread over 6 palm-sized books with tiny illustrations and microscopic lettering. He then distributes these 6 “Heidis” to 3 of his nieces and nephews in a random manner. I am one of the recipients and get books 2 and 5 of Heidi.
We 3 recipients of the Heidi books were so thrilled with the gift that neither its random distribution nor the impossibly small lettering bothered us. We could squint and read, couldn’t we? It was a Saturday that day, so we didn’t have to worry about school either. After lunch that day, we got down to reading the books in serial order, with each one reading his or her books aloud for the others. I still remember the instant connection I felt with Heidi — her spirit, loyalty, adventures and love for her family and friends proved irresistible. At the risk of sounding corny, I knew that I had made a friend.
I am not sure whose mother discovered the books that evening. The small lettering was deemed unsuitable for us children and were confiscated, never to be seen again. My poor uncle got an earful from all our mothers for buying something so child-unfriendly. And that was the rather dramatic end of Heidi-1.