World Book Day: 5 Books That Have Inspired Abdul
I am Dr Abdul Rampurawala, a Chevener from 2001. The Chevening Award enabled me to pursue a master's degree in aerospace engineering at the truly wonderful University of Glasgow. Growing up, my passions were books, aircrafts, and history. Here are the five books that had the biggest impact on my life.
The Faraway Tree Series by Enid Blyton
These delightful stories are based in a magical world of the Faraway Tree inhabited by fairies and pixies. Devouring these books at a young age was delicious. I remember spending hot summer days glued to these books, completely oblivious of time and the world around me. It was like a drug! The world described in these books was strange and mysterious, however it never became scary. I forget the plots but I remember a sweet treat called 'toffee shock' which would keep enlarging in the mouth and then pop into nothing—how wonderful!
Tell Me Why Series by unknown author
Most of us go to school to learn skills to lead a productive and meaningful life. However, my calling for science did not come from classrooms, but from this wonderful series of books called 'Tell Me Why'. These thick tomes were like magical fountains spouting knowledge, explaining things from why ships float to why the sky is blue. Before Google and Wikipedia, this was a vital component in forming my worldview and looking at things objectively. Just thinking about it now gives me an urge to open and get lost in its wonderful world.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
We were encouraged to read this book in school and, in hindsight, I was probably too young for it at the age of 12. The narration is from the point of view of the young daughter of an upstanding lawyer, Atticus Finch, who is tasked to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. He is innocent, but gets convicted and killed nevertheless. At the same time, we watched Roots on TV and the constant reminder of bigotry, hate, and injustice had me somewhat depressed. However, it also instilled a sense of doing the right thing no matter how unpopular.
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
I read The Foundation trilogy when I was in high school and it definitely played some part in nudging me to take up aerospace sciences. An aunt gifted me this book and it remains one of my favourite sci-fi books of all time. I have read it many times and each time I am amazed by the intricateness of the plot. The three laws of robotics and the science of 'psychohistory' is becoming a reality these days with the field of data sciences and machine learning. Isaac Asimov was a scientist and a visionary, and The Foundation trilogy is one of his best known works to date. He wrote over 300 books in his lifetime and remains an all-time favourite of mine.
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
There are books that are far too important to be rushed and this is one such book. Each time I picked it up, it was with a sense of foreboding for the multitude of characters that I cared about. This book opened my eyes to understanding the destitution of lives devoid of hope. It is based on events leading to and during the epic battle of Stalingrad in 1942. A passage from the book that will never leave me describes the march of a 10-year-old orphan and his carer into the gas chamber along a curved corridor. Since the doors to the killing chamber are not visible, there is hope until they are inside and the chamber is locked. The book makes for heavy reading and I wouldn't read it again. However, the abject misery inflicted on millions of people during the war and the lessons we have learnt from it makes one wonder why we still cannot manage to avoid them in this enlightened age.