With International Literacy Day almost a week ago and the launch of the new website announced to promote literacy in Southern Africa, Puku is honoured to present this incredible story by Nivashni Nair, a South African Mum who has experienced the vital importance of books in her young baby’s life. 

11 September, 2017

THE 900 gram infant focused on my lips as if he understood every word of the Dr Seuss book. My voice drowned out the sound of the heart monitor attached to him in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The baby boy, born at 32 weeks, was just two days old and already owned 22 books.

I starting buying books to stock my son’s library seven years before he was born. At the time he was only conceived in our minds, but we had pledged that our child would appreciate the value of reading.

One of my fondest memories as a child was the weekly trips to the library with my mother. Three excited children, my sister, brother and I, would walk alongside my mother to the local library a few kilometres away. We would proudly show off our yellow bags which were given to us at a Library Week event.

More than 30 years later, I still get goose bumps remembering the unique scent of books – glorious books – as we entered the library. We would scatter. My mum would head off to find Danielle Steele books. My sister would look for the latest Enid Blyton offering while my little brother’s heart was after picture books.

As for me, I would run my fingers along the titles on the shelves and search for that one book that would give me the greatest adventure of the week.

As the years went by I travelled on magic carpets, solved mysteries, visited exotic locations, fought wars and made friends without leaving our living room.

I found knowledge, courage and comfort in books.

I want the same for my son, Riav. We introduced him to some of the books in his library when he was in NICU in January this year.

By the time he came home at 28 days old, we had already read several stories to him. His library also grew as friends who understood my love for reading bought him books to welcome him into the world.

My husband and I made a commitment that we would read a story to him every day. At first we thought ourselves insane to make such a commitment as we struggled with a baby who had acid reflux and colic.

We would take turns trying to soothe him and a bedtime story was the last thing on our minds until we discovered that reading comforted him.

Soon the colic disappeared and was replaced by curiosity. He wanted to touch the books. We introduced him to cloth and  baby books with pages that he was able to turn on his own.

Our nightly story time continued “no matter what.”

During these moments when we sit on his play mat reading to him while he holds his book, we are creating memories while teaching him that there is something valuable – knowledge – in those pages.

At eight months old he already knows that the words I speak during our story times comes from those pages. When I stop speaking, he gestures to the book and waits for me to read on.

Baby Riav reads in the car on the way to school.

Each morning, when he is strapped into his car seat, I place a book on his lap.

His tiny hands open it and his eyes become brighter as he looks at the pictures on the page. Unfortunately he never finishes the book as he falls asleep before we make it out of our street, but he never lets go of it. He clings onto it throughout the journey to day-care.

Before he was born, visitors to our home would always ask why I had a collection of children’s books. And I would always reply: “That’s my child’s inheritance.”

Teaching him to recognise that value of reading – that it can take you on an adventure, educate you, and entertain you – is the greatest inheritance that Riav will ever receive.
And I, as his mother, will do my best to give it to him.

About the author:

Award winning news journalist Nivashni Nair Sukdhev is more than a word warrior. The senior South African journalist who ran the Durban bureau of The Times, these days balances her precious waking hours lobbing keyboard strikes against those in power on behalf of the downtrodden or voiceless; indulging her passion for shoes and shopping; keeping the man who swept her off her feet in a record 12-day romance happy; satisfying her bibliophile tendencies and most recently being rewarded with priceless, infectious laughs from the precious bundle of boy that symbolises her victory against Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and infertility.