Booked for life
We at ‘Times of India’ are starting a new series on Bookmark called BOOKED FOR LIFE.
It will consist of first-person accounts by book lovers on their relationship with their collections, favorite books, unfavourite books, reading habits and so on. Essentially personal, the pieces can be funny, nostalgic, righteous, ironic, and even rants are more than welcome. It could be a piece on building your collection, buying your books from pavements, Wheeler stalls, traffic signals or ordering them on the net; fanatic non-lenders who don’t lend their books no matter what; lenders who are always passing on their books; rage at book vandals who scribble in ballpoint pen in the margins and underline lines they are particularly moved by; diarists; fetishes like only buying hard back; memories associated with inscriptions on the first page; the heady smell of old paper pockmarked with pinholes; serendipitous discoveries; the quirks of your local lending library, lifelong quests to source and own a whole series, say Granta or the Time Life series; first-edition fanatics; inheriting grandpa’s collections and so on.
The piece should be about 800 words in length. Please do contribute and write in with your ideas.
In my book
My relationship with books began from the time I was old enough to interpret one.
Amar Chitra Katha was the book that first nudged me towards reading and I steadily progressed to Tinkle and Chandamama.
Mark and Mandy were my best pals till Enid Blyton introduced herself to me. And from then on I had adventures galore with ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘The Secret Seven’. Because a dreary convent school held me captive in the real world, my imagination helped me lose myself at boarding school, indulging in mischief and high tea with the girls at Malory Towers.
Just when I stepped into my teen years, Nancy Drew made an appearance and the sophisticated detective (She actually wore lipstick! Was I impressed, or what!) was my new best friend. We solved many adventures together, as I put on my thinking cap to guess who the culprit might be. It was also around this time that I discovered that patience had been granted to me in excruciatingly small reserves, and my bad habit of reading the ending of a book, even before I started reading the book, took seed.
Mills & Boons were a strict no-no at home so I had to make do with Barbara Cartland. Her drop-dead-gorgeous-with-the-tiniest-waists-possible, hapless and helpless, always swooning heroines made me feel pretty inadequate (I had never fainted in my life) and how I longed to be like them! The always dour, but swashbuckling counts that in reality had a hearts-of-gold, steeds, vast estates or better still kingdoms and jewels among other things were the stuff fantasy-men were made of.
By now, reading was a passion that I indulged in brazenly. Newspapers, magazines, textbooks, even labels on merchandise, I devoured every written word like my life depended on it!
Books were treasures that I was torn between dying to share with others and hating to part with. People who mishandled and defaced books were despised with a vengeance. A quick solution was reached, I would buy a copy of the book I wanted to share at traffic signals or pavements stalls and safely lend those without the fear of it being vandalized.
On the topic of vandalism, I plead guilty of being a book-vandal myself, although a very refined one. I liked marking lines, quotes, phrases, and sometimes even words with whatever writing instrument was at hand. My favorite books are blemished with fluorescent or pencil and ballpoint marks. In dire times I have used nail paint and lip pencils too!
I dropped the habit of making notes in the margins almost as soon as I had adopted it because I realized how ugly it made the page look. But it was good while it lasted and I am amused, dumbstruck, embarrassed, or surprised when I come across those thoughts written in the margin after so many years. Did I really think THAT I often wonder?
Buying books is something that thrills me more than shopping for shoes does. Leisurely afternoons spent browsing in crowded bookstores, deciding which book to buy. Squatting on pavements and obstructing the walking traffic, bargaining for a huge mountain of books that actually cost you what a little over 2 air-conditioned-store-bought books would cost.
Waving wildly to catch the eye of the little boys hidden behind ladders of paperbacks at traffic signals and gesturing at the nearest rickshaw-walla/ taxi driver/ bewildered-person-in-car to tap the pirated bookseller and direct him to wherever I am in at that moment. Haggling with them good-naturedly and getting the price of books down to a fourth of the cost mentioned and sealing the deal with a big smile and an additional Rs100 note because you feel guilty for having made them run from one signal to the next.
Buying books is an unparalleled pleasure that only matches the excitement of rushing home to read them. Burying my nose to inhale the fresh, inky scent trapped in between the pages of a brand new book is an exhilarating experience only a fellow ‘Bookie’ can understand.
The reverent awe with which the cover is slowly turned to reveal the first page, and before you know it you are deeply entrenched in the world created by the author’s magical words.
The bright day creeps towards dusk which you only notice when you can’t see the words anymore. Things like work, food, and toilet breaks are inconsequential and minor irritants that you brush off impatiently if you can or else evenings, weekends, and holidays are looked forward to eagerly losing yourself in the world of words.
I have always believed that a book comes to you when you need it the most. No two people read the same book and to quote award-winning writer Kathleen Norris- “Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.”