Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My father's atlas

This chain of thought was started by Anamika. I've been tagged by her to write about a material object which holds many memories for me. Of course there are many, but the first one that came to mind was my father's atlas, so I guess that beats my mother's oven, which is what my younger son thought of when I told him about this tag. ( Maybe I'll write about it some other time).
My father bought The Reader's Digest Great World Atlas, (first edition, fourth revise, 1962). We were living in England at the time, I was seven years old, and he had been buying, over the years, some wonderful books from the RD collection. ( I digress, but I remember reading Man of Everest, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Snakepit, and so many other of those condensed books as I grew up).
The Atlas was, to a little seven year old, HUGE. ( It's actually about sixteen inches long and eleven inches wide, and merely an inch thick). My sister and I were utterly fascinated by it- we were only allowed to look at it opened out on the dining table. It started with Planet Earth in the solar system. Then there were amazing views of the globe as though seen from one hundred miles above the surface of the earth- photographs of relief maps showing all geological formations in vivid colour and exotic detail. Then of course were the regular political maps. We used to like finding mythical New Delhi and Bombay on the map, and once we knew that we were returning to India, tracing out the sea route that our ship was to take. (That was one of our best holidays ever- from Tilbury Docks, via Marseille, Gibraltar, Pompeii, Naples, Port Said, Aden- from where my mother bought French chiffon saris for herself and her daughters' trousseaus, while the said daughters were mere children, and, finally, Bombay).
There was much about constellations, population distributions, patterns of climate, the structure of the earth, the oceans, religions, cultivation patterns. Growing up with this atlas was wonderful. As a young child my favourite page was that of the earth's treasures, in which there were pictures of gemstones and the ores they came from. That was a magical, princess-loving, fairy-tale believing kind of age, when emeralds and rubies and platinum were totally fascinating. Onyx and carnelian, topaz and malachite, sapphire and agate, olivine and aquamarine, beautiful words to be savoured and rolled around your tongue!
The atlas was a constant in our lives, along with my father's dictionary and encyclopaedia.
A comfortable source of knowledge in the background of my life.
And of course Life takes you away from the known and the familiar- new locations for work and marriage. Annual visits home, if you're lucky. The Atlas became the repository of large and important documents like university degrees. As time went by, my elder son developed a great fondness for the Atlas, and would assiduously go through it on each visit to his Nanaji's house. And one day he could no longer resist its charms, and wanted to possess it, to take it home with him. I was a little hesitant, but we asked my father if we could 'borrow' his atlas till the next vacation. My father was very kind, and said that we could take it. We bought him a small, school atlas as a ready reference book, and my son triumphantly bore the borrowed atlas home.
He spent many hours poring over it, and of course we never did return it, though we would keep telling my father that it was 'his' atlas and we were mere borrowers. But, for the last few years, though all the kids are away now, both my father and his atlas are resident in my house again so the wheel has turned full circle. Both are now rather old and somewhat tattered at the edges, as it were, but they are still a valuable part of our lives.

Edited to add: I'd like to pass on this tag to the Mad Momma, Choxbox, Kiran, Yashodhara and Tharini. Write about a material object which holds many memories for you.

20 comments:

Anamika said...

We had the SAME atlas! I remember being fascinated by it too.

Thanks for doing this. And I love the thought that your father and the atlas have both journeyed much and are now co-residents again :)

choxbox said...

this is weird - we also had the SAME atlas! still there at mom's place and have lots of memories poring over it too with my sibs.

lovely post!

Space Bar said...

Eh - I came here to say we had the same atlas - only to find a chorus! But I have to say, one of my favourite pages, also, was the one with the gemstones. Gorgeous colours, names...could never decide whether I liked that one best or the one with the constellations.

Lovely!

Moppet's Mom said...

Dear me, who knew that folks could bond over an atlas! We had (have) a giant atlas too - though not the RD one - and my brother and I spent many happy hours engrossed in the strange and wonderful places in it. Sigh!

lekhni said...

I have also spent my childhood years poring over various atlases. But funnily enough, when my Dad came over here last time, he spent a lot of time poring over our atlas - he was figuring out all the places he was going to visit :)

karmickids said...

This was so beautiful, I really need to think up something that really matches upto the Atlas in my memories...

DotMom said...

Very evocative... We ahd an atlas that my brother and I pored over for hours on end. Also the bit about RD. Although considered tacky and other things.. I have immensely enjoyed reading their condensed works growing up.

Since you like maps, you might enjoy this site:

http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/

SUR NOTES said...

i guess thats why we go blog hopping, all of us who grew up tracing our fingers on those muddled up colours and lines, lost travellers- i am thrilled to be a part of this wonderful set!

neha vish said...

We used to have a huge TIMES atlas at home. It required the two of kids to carry it around, and some supervision to open it without falling inside it! :)

I even had an imaginary trip planned for years - going from page 64 to 95!

Chandni said...

sounds heart warming...

you know after your post, I am wracking my brain to think of some material object that has meant as much to me, and I just can't come up with anything!!

sad, but true

Sanyukta said...

Evocative indeed...Well, I have an Oxford one..not really jumbo-size...but it always fascinated me..I often pored over it for hours at a stretch...marking up routes I would like to follow..trying to say all those unpronounceable names...hypothesizing about how life would be like in one of those little places printed in tiny lettering..say..in the middle of Siberia..it was all wonderful doing that, no less.

Tharini said...

What a lovely tag and lovely concept. And what a lovely post! I go gaga over atlases too. I'd love to take this up. Very soon. Thanks Dipali for tagging me.

Anand said...

and need i mention, madre, how much wanderlust that atlas was resposible for? so perhaps we can blame nanaji, after all, for all the hitch-hiking....

dipali said...

What an "Atlastic" bunch we all are!
This was a lovely tag- I felt all of eight years old again:)
Thank you, everyone, for the appreciation.
Sanyukta, welcome to my blog.
Yes, Anand, if you can't blame your own parents for something you can always blame theirs!

eve's lungs said...

High Five!My dad bought this RD atlas for me when I was around 5 and we would pore over it together -Thanks for bringing back the memories of the atlas and the RD condensed books - I still have some of them!

dipali said...

Eve's lungs: You had to be part of the RD gang! Now we need a Great World Atlas lovers blog meet!

eve's lungs said...

Dipali - yes ! Name the time and place -!!!!

the mad momma said...

Ohmigod. is it strange that all of us had that RD Atlas??? We played with it all the time. It was such a treat!!!

Suchitra said...

Ditto! Me and my sister were awed by the gemstones page! :) I still refer to it though the maps are too old. Nice post.

Goldielover said...

I loved that atlas as a kid, too. My father had one of the earlier ones - not quite sure which edition, but it was green with a light coloured spine. I loved it so much that I bought a 1979 edition for myself as soon as Reader's Digest offered it. I still have it, and it is on my dining room table right now as I had it out to show my daughter a map of Africa. I also loved the gem page the best. I credit that atlas with my love of collecting older reference books and atlases. One of the most prized volumes I own is a 1923 Harmsworth New Atlas of the World. It was one of the first ones to use double sided printing, as most earlier atlases had only had printing on one side of the paper. The in between pages are filled with fascinating browsing material about the countries and continents - an early forerunner to the final segment in the Reader's Digest atlas. All in all - definitely one of the defining books of my childhood, and one which still has effects to this day. Good blog - enjoyed it thoroughly.