When other children my age were busy trawling the neighborhood and indulging in games of hopskotch,“four corners” and “lock and key” on a gloriously sunny days,I amused myself with the books of every size and shape.My mother’s pleas to get out more and play with “normal” kids most often fell on deaf ears as I remained buried in my favorite books.There was never paucity of books to keep myself occupied with as dad is a book lover himself and our shelves always bulged with books which I lapped up with wide-eyed fascination.These were mostly books for grown-ups ,but that started a habit that I am thankful for. Books were my sanctuary -my private little secret garden I could escape into and be what I wanted.I could be a fairy,a princess or even a one-eyed monster if I wanted.
During summer holidays every year, dad used to take me to the Landmark book store and let me prowl the aisles of the shop.My heart almost always lept (still does) at the sight of all the books stacked neatly in front of me.During one of the trips to the store(this should have been at least 22 years back),I set my eyes upon a collection of Illustrated Classics.The compact pocket size books were neatly shrink-wrapped and sat alluringly on the shelves,beckoning me pick them up.As I ran my fingers over the shrink-wrap, I felt a strange feeling gripping me- I wanted to touch the books with my bare hands.
The titles that were in the collection: Little women,Black beauty,20,000 leagues under the sea,Kidnapped , The Wizard of oz, Around the world in eighty days,Heidi,The adventures of Robinson Crusoe,A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court,Three musketeers,Sherlock Holmes and the case of hound of Baskervilles and Treasure Island. But one look at the price got me misty eyed- it was way to expensive. An assistant caught me looking longingly at the books and whispered conspiratorially “ Every other page is an illustration. It is selling like hot cake-only three more left.”
I decided that minute that I had to have it and thus started a love affair.
As I gazed at books, the red, pink, blue, violet, yellow inks of the shiny book covers merged into a hazy cauldron of colors, leaving me week-kneed and breathless with anticipation. A messily executed tantrum later,I was the proud owner of 12 books.It was the first set of books that I can truly call my own and I was proud of my new acquisition.My folks tell me that I wiped the books clean every week with a dry cloth and even fiercely guarded it from my little brother,who was a toddler at that time.I remember not letting my cousins and friends if their hands were dirty .
In the years that followed, taking the book out of the glass cupboard and re-reading them with friends was almost a weekly ritual. I routinely escaped the mundaneness of school curriculum by secretly slipping the books between the covers of my science and maths textbooks.I got caught several times and that was probably when my parents realised that their daughter wasn’t going to grow up into the next Ramanujam.
Sometime later, a bunch of us at school decided to have a library and circulate our books.I don’t remember what made me sign up, but I did.Everything went smoothly for a few months and then I realised that some of my books had disappeared from circulation.I couldn’t trace the person that had borrowed the books because the entry register disappeared as well ,mysteriously. Five of the books from that collection disappeared into a blackhole and I remember crying over the loss for days. I went back to landmark to replace the books-but could never find another set again with all the books again.Over the years, I have acquired the titles I lost, but these were normal paperback versions. That day I made a decision never to part with the rest of the books EVER.I balk and refuse if someone asks me if they could borrow them.
Over the next 15 years, I moved 4 times for college and work and every time the books traveled with me, across land and seas, cloaked in my mother’s old sari. Whenever I missed my family, I whipped the books out and got lost in the worlds of Jules Verne or Louisa Mary Alcott or the other authors.I almost always cheered up after thumbing through the familiar pages filled with illustrations. And then there was that sweet ester-y smell that I loved burying my nose into.As the books get older,the sweeter they smell- like old wine tasting better then freshly made one.
Currently, the remaining seven books sit on my shelf, yellowing with dignity and age. Sometimes when I open a book, loose pages fall down and the paper crumbles at times in my hand, but I know that I’ll hold on to these pieces of my past as long as I can.I can’t think of lending them out to anyone, considering how fragile they are.I treat the books like some favorite great grand aunt who cant gallivant around the world with her aching knees and joints.
Someday, when I have children, the books will become part of their collection- a blast from their mother’s past, which I hope they will love and treasure as much as I do. Till then, I will amuse myself and re-read these books for the hundredth time.When I think about the five books I lost,I still feel guilty and sad.Sometimes I wonder where they are- in some raddi shop,rotting unloved or if they have been crushed into pulp and recycled into something new and shiny or if they are amidst book-lovers who treasure them. Where ever they are, I’ll miss them!. And this makes me hold on to the rest with fierce determination and resolve.
PS: The photo shows only 6 books,but there is another one safe with me that i missed out.(The wizard of Oz).My camera’s conked off ,so i couldn’t take another pic.
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