I had first discovered the place about a year back. An unused brick well, close to a huge, shady banyan tree, on the outskirts of Hashimpur, our village. Ordinarily, it had nothing to commend itself to the observer. But to a shy and reticent twelve-year old like me, it was a haven of refuge from the impinging society.
Our village school gave over at three o’clock in the afternoon. But few boys returned home immediately. They either played football in the school compound, or went fishing on the banks of the Ragini, or if the day was windy, spent the time flying kites. They were boisterous and restless, eager to let their energies be consumed in all kinds of physical activity. They teased me because I was not like them. In fact, I was also the subject of taunts such as ---“The bookworm has no time for play!” and “Oh, the intellectual that he is, how can he descend to play frivolous games?” But I turned a deaf ear to them. It was of little use explaining to them my fascination for reading. According to general supposition, boys were meant to indulge in outdoor activities, where reading, a sedentary engagement, could only assume a place of secondary importance. How was I to show them that for me, it was not exactly that way?
Though I had no objections to playing, it was not really something which I yearned to do after school. Tired and fatigued after the day’s activities, my idea of relaxation lay in reading a storybook. Like the other boys who spent an hour or so after school in play, I devoted it to the joys of reading books.
But unlike the others, I needed privacy and quiet to read, which could seldom be found in public places. At home, of course, there was the silence I needed but I wanted to stay outdoors like the rest. Thus, sometimes, I would read on the banks of the river while on other days, the less-crowded tea-shop was the place to ensconce me.
One day, however, I chanced to come upon the place which was simply perfect for me. Located on the fringes of the village, it consisted of a banyan tree close to an old and dilapidated well. Some of the bricks lining the well were moss-covered. Also, there was a dense undergrowth surrounding it. Usually, spots under banyan trees in the village formed the ideal ground for the gathering of neighbours in idle gossip. But this tree, being situated outside the village proper, was isolated. This last factor which warranted the quietness of seclusion was a great incentive for me.
From then onwards, after school, it was this place that I started visiting. Under the cool shade of the banyan, cushioned in the serenity of nature, I learnt to savour the habit of reading like never before. The place formed for me a world away from the teeming crowds, the noise, and the bustle of the workaday life. It was my very own corner in the world. Occasionally, the silence was punctuated by the chirping of the sparrows or the guttural sounds uttered by the pigeons. However, it all blended harmoniously to create the ideal ambiance for my treasured pastime. As I read in the lazy afternoons, it often crossed my mind that this was my favourite place in the world.
Soon, my summer holidays were approaching. During the vacation, my aunt had invited me to spend the days at her place, in the town of Truchi. I looked forward to it with great anticipation. My cousin Ritwik and I would have a splendid time playing games, watching movies, visiting the town library and so on. Ritwik was also an avid reader like me, and on sharing this interest in common, we doubly enjoyed each other’scompany. The spot by the banyan tree, however, would be missed by me during my stay.