The Swiss Family Robinson: A favourite no more

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The Swiss Family Robinson was one of my favourite books growing up. I received an abridged version of this book for my 10th birthday and it was love at first read. For a 10 year-old girl with a rather active imagination, the story of a shipwrecked family living on a deserted island with nobody but each other for company was extremely thrilling and romantic. The family comprises Father Robinson (who is never named in the book), Mother Robinson (Elizabeth), and their four sons—Fritz, Ernest, Jack and Franz.

I read the book (which was first published in 1812) many times over the years and never failed to marvel at the resourcefulness of the hard- working Swiss Family Robinson who lived off the land, sea and air, or delight in their discoveries, inventions and adventures. In a way, it was one of my comfort books !

So when I found an unabridged, second-hand version of the book, I was delighted. It was a much-anticipated read and I was looking forward to reading all the details that an abridged version always leaves out. And the unabridged version of The Swiss Family Robinson did not disappoint on that score—the characters were fleshed out, the various adventures, discoveries and inventions were described in more detail, etc.

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Heidi: My friend, philosopher and guide

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.

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