“Chalo beta,” my mom gently urged, “why don’t you come to work at the library with me this weekend? You can play on the computers, find books, and make friends!” Crossing my arms, I shook my head, rattled at the idea of having to interact with other kids my age. Despite my mom’s continuous requests to accompany her to the Narberth Library, the local library where she worked, I was stubborn in my desire to stay home over the weekends. However, one day, I reluctantly agreed, swayed by the opportunity to take my favorite American Girl doll Kit on a weekend excursion. I mentally promised myself that I would not stay more than an hour and would avoid any other kids at all costs.
Growing up, my mom did everything she could to pass down her two languages, Hindi and English, and her love for language to me. As a small child, I fully embraced this, learning both languages simultaneously and always demanding to be read to before bed. While these bedtime stories remained constant, other parts of my life drastically changed as my family grappled with a difficult situation — the passing of my younger sister. After this tragic event, I slipped into my shell and struggled to make friends. I missed my younger sister and quickly lost interest in the aspects of life that once excited me. I was timid around new people and felt the talkative nature I once possessed slipping away. My mom did everything in her power to help me open up again, but despite her best efforts, I mostly resisted.
Everything changed on this one specific weekend. On the car ride to the library, in an attempt to get me to stop pouting, my mom started telling me the story about her family’s bookshop back home in Calcutta, India. While I didn’t fully understand the story as a child, I now have the knowledge to fill in the gaps. My mom’s dad and two brothers started their own business called “Family Book Shop,” a bookstore that catered to Park Street’s residents and supplied textbooks to local schools. My mom frequently worked there growing up, which fostered her love for books and language. While working, she conversed in her native tongue, Hindi, and strengthened her English when talking to buyers and making business transactions. Once she had an arranged marriage to my dad and moved to the United States, she became fully bilingual. She continued sharing her love for literature by working as a librarian in the children’s section.
Since that day, I was always excited to accompany my mom to work. Every weekend afterward that I spent at the library with my mom, I became increasingly confident and further developed my literacy skills. I read new books every weekend and took different ones home during the week, consequently developing strong reading skills. My bedside table was stacked with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Secret Series, and Rainbow Fairies books. I also realized that my newfound love for reading translated into a sense of confidence. As I became better at communicating my feelings, I also became more talkative and well-spoken. I started blossoming and approaching other kids at the library and park — something I never did before. Over time, I developed strong communication skills and found the benefit in voicing my opinions. I realized that what I had to say was important and that I couldn’t let one sad event hold me back from finding my identity.
I am always excited to visit the Family Book Shop whenever we go back to India on our bi-annual trips. Though the structure and layout of the store have drastically changed over the years, the smell of fresh books and the light-hearted nature of my relatives remain. I am also extremely grateful for the unwavering attention my mom gave me, as my confidence and ability to express my feelings are one of my favorite parts of myself. My mom taught me that it’s essential to fondly remember but also to move past the tragic events that have clouded our household. Through these isolated yet connected events, I have learned the importance of finding my voice and overcoming challenges. I will forever be thankful for those youthful mornings at the library — they have truly made me the person I am today.