Books ! I share a very warm and beautiful relationship with them. This blog post was spurred by a comment by my childhood friend on FB .
We lived in a small town in Tamilnadu. Tamil Magazines were the stuff mostly found around in our home. The Hindu newspaper arrived dutifully, every morning. I had the good fortune to have a “book –loving “doctor family as our neighbours. Every evening, as soon as I came back from school, I would saunter over to our neighbour’s home. I will usually find Anna ( grandfather) poring over a large book with his magnifying glass. I would sit on the window sill and listen to Anna talk about the interesting reading he did through the day. One day, it would be a wild lifer in Africa, another day an English princess, third day would bring to life an American spy and fourth day would open my eyes to an inspiring artist in Italy. His stories would bring before my eyes the pictures of the pages. He gently encouraged me to pick up the book and read these fascinating pages by myself. I would often stop and wonder at the meaning of most words. Anna would sit by my side and direct me to the words in their humongous dictionary.
The reading bug bit me hard! Our neighbours (Doctor Uncle and Vimala Aunty) would encourage me to come over and make myself comfortable in their home in the midst of bookshelves. They also used to subscribe for National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines.
We had a club house library with a small collection of books. Enid Blyton was my “go-to” friend and spent hours lounging in our large garden with a withered famous five adventure in my hand. The Illustrated Weekly and Sportstar of the 80s were truly classy productions, week after week
My school holidays were spent in Madras (now, Chennai !!!) A large battalion of cousins would land up at our grandparent’s place. My uncle ( Ram Mama) played a key factor in my love for books. Every summer, he gave each one of us Rs 500 and took us to Higginbotham’s book store. We had the whole day to pick our books. 500 rupees were indeed a large sum and each one of us could pick 10-12 books. I tried to influence my cousins to buy books of my choice so that I could maximize my reading in the vacation time. The day was spent rummaging through the large shelves, reading half the book by sitting on the floor along the aisle, running our hands through all the large coffee table books we could not afford and standing at the billing counter and comparing each other’s bounty. We would go home and occupy different nook and corner, review our purchases, write out our names, smell the fresh glossy papers and sleep with all these books scattered around us. We had a rule that we would circulate these books among us. This way we got to read more than 60 books every year. All classics (abridged and illustrated versions) , Enid Blyton books, Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle ,Animal Stories, Sport stories, beautiful Atlas and Encyclopedia.
I moved to Madras for my higher secondary education and my reading life had a huge upsurge. We had a good lending library near our home ( Ramkumar Lending Library ,Besant Nagar) . I begged my parents to get me membership, saved all my pocket money for paying the library lending fees. I spent my days and nights reading Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens, PG Wodehouse, Arthur Hailey, Jeffrey Archer, Ernest Hemingway, AYN RAND and many others. I vividly remember being deeply affected after reading “The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde”. One another book which stayed with me for years is “Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham”. I missed sharing these stories with Anna as I had moved from my hometown and craved for company to share my joy for books. These two years were supposed to be challenging academically but I spent them in quiet reading. My academic results were quite poor and I could not get admission into targeted higher education.
I moved back to small town Tamilnadu for my Graduate Studies. The next four years were largely “dark years” as far as my reading is concerned. Wallowed my life in reading magazines and felt empty and shallow on most days. I lost a great opportunity in reading Tamil Literature as the university had a fantastic library with classics and contemporary Tamil writing. I shared the room (along with six others) with a daughter of an eminent Tamil writer. She was no inspiration as she could not read Tamil (what a shame!)
My Post Graduation and first two years of work life was spent largely reading Management, Self Help and popular Fiction books. I spent 4 years in Gujarat and started searching for good Indian Writing in English and also dabbled with Poetry (reading) from far and wide. A big chunk of my salary was spent on books. When I moved back to Madras, I departed with 6 boxes of books, One big box of music cassettes, one veena ( don’t know why?) and two suitcases of clothes. I paid a huge sum of money to Air India for extra luggage ( borrowed money from a friend).
Marriage happened soon and one of the first things we bought for our home was a book shelf. Reading came to the forefront . It was easy as husband also liked reading and gave quiet support to my fiery love for books. I earned well and spent lots on books. I focused my reading on Autobiographies, Ecology, Nature and Wildlife, Travel and Management. My bag had at least 2 books and every room had atleast a twenty .There were times my disposable income could not keep up with my reading speed.
I joined every library in town (Eloor, British council, Connemara Library) but kept buying books too. We built a large library at home. Books were labeled, stacked, documented in Excel and stuffed into large basic wooden shelves. One room was converted to a den with “book walls”. I will insist that every visitor would visit my den and share my love for these beauties. My mother would often add that it is not only my love; it’s also my only investment!!!
Online bookstores arrived and I latched on to them. Titles I thought I might never get to read were just a click away. Amazon, Powell’s and Alibris packages started arriving with great regularity. Friends used to come and spend hours at my den, talking about books and reading aloud from them.
I loved walking through bookstores and gazing at the huge joy, just a whisker away. Landmark was clearly my favorite store. I frequented Good Books and Earthworm book store. Odyssey provided distraction as it was closer home.
We moved to Bangalore and carted 60 boxes of books to the new city. One of the first places I visited is Gangarams book store. My heart would skip a beat whenever I entered Blossom Book store at Church street. I somehow never warmed up to a Crossword store (anywhere in the country) . I discovered “Magazine Store” at the Church street basement and love happened instantly. I paid big money to buy back issues of international magazines .
Our large Bangalore home was fast running out of space. I started stashing books in Office. My car often looked like a mobile library. My husband, parents, son, dog and house-help started to snigger when they saw me walk in with a book bag. By now, I had developed added interest in Tamil Literature, Fitness and Food. I starting donating all fiction books to worthy libraries. I would review my collection once a year and classify books as “cannot live without” and “ Okay-can give away” . The pile of books in second set will always be small.
My husband quietly gifted a Kindle to me . I resisted using it for a few months but the possibilities were enticing. I soon fell in love , hook,line and sinker. I have multiple models of Kindle and use them extensively. I consider it as one of the greatest inventions of mankind.
Horror descended when my husband broached the topic of moving to Bombay. A cry howled in my head “what will I do with my books?”. My husband was very clear that we will not be able to afford a large house and hence need to find a place elsewhere for my books. It was heart wrenching to pack my “book friends” into boxes and move them to a claustrophobic, dull, damp shed in Madras. It’s been six years and there are days when I have tears flowing onto my pillow as I close my kindle after a good read!
Much to the chagrin on everyone who shares my life, I continue to buy books! Kitab Khana is a wonderful bookstore in South Bombay . I empty my credit card every time I step in there to breathe some “book air”. Our only furniture purchase in Bombay has been sleek space saving high-rise book shelves. Today my book shelf is filled with food books, running guides, travel books, Indian writing, Poetry (from India &Elsewhere-Mary Oliver is my flavor of the season)
My day is incomplete if I have not spent a quiet hour reading a book. Books are my dreamboats. I live multiple lives through the characters, see the world through the words and feel like an active participant in the microcosm of the book. I get deeply affected by the words and they stay with me long after I close the book. The love I developed in my childhood has stayed with me over all these tumbling years. . The smell of fresh book pages can comfort me and the brown weathered old book relieve all fear and doubt. Books have been my friend, sibling, spouse, parent, child and teammate at various occasions. My clouded fuzzy brain gets cleared as I turn a page of a great book or a lovely magazine. In these 40 years, books have been my everlasting love!!