Books can make you lose yourself in the past. They can also help you find your future: act as catalysts of change and give direction to your thoughts and dreams. Those who have made a mark in their fields in Chennai narrate how books and authors have been inspirational in crystallising career choices, and influenced them in their professional lives.

He was 12 years old, says American mystery writer Ellery Queen , when he first met Arthur Conan Doyle's great fictional detective. “Ellery Queen” was in bed suffering from a bout of illness when his aunt brought him a book from the library. “I had no inkling, no premonition that in another minute my life's work would be born,” he recounts in his introduction to the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Ballantine Books, 1975. Books can make you lose yourself in the past. They can also help you find your future: act as catalysts of change and give direction to your thoughts and dreams. Those who have made a mark in their fields in Chennai narrate how books and authors have been inspirational in crystallising career choices, and influenced them in their professional lives.

Shekar Dattatri, wildlife film-maker and conservationist:

I was 10 when I read my first book by Gerald Durrell. I was always interested in Nature. Instead of my artlessly watching and aimlessly wandering around, the books focussed my interest. They taught me how to watch and observe animals, how to make notes. Durrell's books on birds and small animals in the island of Corfu made a boy like me in Chennai, interested in a city garden, connect instantly. I started with Rosie is My Relative and went on to read his other books, including accounts of his expeditions to collect animals. His books made me want to rush out and experience similar adventures. As a teenage volunteer at the Snake Park in Guindy, I learnt from the Irulas how to capture snakes. I started living Durrell's life in my backyard. I was also influenced by his ideas on conservation.

Dr. Afzal H. Mohamed, Consultant Veterinarian, The Ark vet clinic:

I liked animals and the idea to become a vet was always there. But James Herriot's books on his life as a veterinary surgeon in Yorkshire reinforced this and gave me a direction. I was around 10 when I first read his book All Creatures Great and Small. I then read all his books. What particularly appealed to me was the fact that he did not romanticise the life of a vet. And, he did not make it all about the animals — the human interaction with their owners, and the way he improvised and adapted when he had to treat his patients was absorbing. It was a transitional phase in Medicine and Herriot had to innovate a lot — it helped me later in the Indian context. Herriot also helped me see the brighter side of things. He was always so positive and loved what he was doing. Also inspirational was his strong sense of ethics.

Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu:

Kalki's vivid historical fiction, Subramania Bharati's soul-stirring poems and the serialised narratives of Veerapandiya Kattabomman which I read or was taught as a boy, all fired my imagination and made me want to take up archaeology. Later it led my team and I to restore the house in Ettayapuram where Bharati was born. The house had been turned into a godown by the owner for stacking sulphur for matches! I requested the Government to declare it a State monument and now it is a memorial for the great poet. In Panchalankurichi there were only tombs for the British soldiers who died fighting Kattabomman. We excavated the small palace of this brave chieftain. The present Chief Minister provided encouragement.

Salma, Tamil poet and writer:

I was inspired by many poets to write poetry. But I started writing fiction, Irandaam Jaamangalin Kathai only after reading Sundara Ramaswamy's JJ: Sila Kurippugal. His style of writing and his delineation of characters both shocked and delighted me. I was also inspired by his short stories. His novels such as Kuzhaindaigal, Penngal, Aangal dealt with the same world — of the family — as does my work. I learnt the power of observation and of injecting my work with humour from him. I was also impressed with the way he portrayed the mindscapes and explored the inner worlds of his characters. I'm now writing my next novel.

Mithran Devanesen, theatre director and expert in lighting and set design:

My school teacher in Bangalore made Shakespeare come alive. He taught even Julius Caesar, which I found boring, so well. Shakespeare's only stage directions are “Enter” and “Exeunt” and this gives full scope for the director's imagination. You can restructure his plays and leave your impression on them. I did an Indianised production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, including features such as a puli vesham. In A Winter's Tale, we rolled a cupboard around to show different locations and set Father Time's speech to rap music. I did the sets and lighting for Romeo and Juliet and King Lear with professional companies from the U.K., and college productions of his other plays. I attended a workshop on theatre voice based on Shakespearean texts at Stratford-upon-Avon. My love for Shakespeare has influenced my work-in characterisation, understanding the sub-text and ensuring clarity of lines.

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