03 June, 2010

Book Rookie

Nearly a week ago, I decided to catalogue the Great Many books that belong to The Family. All of them. Those neatly arranged in their shelves. Those lying forgotten in bed boxes. Those in some dusty loft, dodging for space with retired furniture and other odds and ends of a family averse to throwing away. Those in the storeroom that lay in wooden boxes, stacks upon stacks of much-loved, many times read paperbacks. Those texts in elegant Sanskrit on onion paper.

A Dickens and Salinger. Flashy sex-ridden Harold Robbins sat demurely alongside 'The Thorn Birds' which brought back beautiful childhood memories. Watching the movies. On video cassettes. Three parts. We'd forever be ridding the cassette player of dust with the head cleaner. I lovingly held the bright red copy of 'Gone With the Wind'; quickly reading through the last few lines, perhaps my favourite:
"I'll think of it tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I will think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."
A collection of joke books from the genuinely funny to the downright absurd, giggled along side, in their corner of the bookshelf. Then there was a whole length of space dedicated to Mathematics. Trigonometry glowered at Calculus. I dusted the books on India: 'A Passage to India', 'Asoka' by Romila Thapar, Shashi Tharoor among others. I sifted through 'Letters to Gauri', a series of letters by M. V. Kamath fashioned on the lines of Nehru's famous writings from prison to his daughter Indira. As I ran my eyes over the wide range of topics he covered; religion and history, conduct and moral values, I felt happy. I remembered letters written to me not so long ago, the words always teaching loving lessons, never sharp, never preaching. The words reflecting concern. Some voicing a question. Others reflections on my studies, my health. The strings of quotations at the end, they were the solace in my solitude. I would read and re-read, smelling the letter often for it was always sprinkled with some perfume. I cherished those little things, those undemanding gestures, meant only for me. There is something so potent, something so absorbing about unconditional love. Doesn't it weaken and strengthen you in a manner inconceivable?

Setting aside the emotional side-effects of my task, I was not prepared for the physical ramifications ahead of me. Categorising over 5000 books ranging from the esoteric to the mundane, cookery and classics, poetry and plays. I began to lose track of any kind of time and hours upon hours would be spent in lovingly sifting through yellowed pages. Smelling the books and letting out loud sneezes. Glasses of nimbu pani/cold coffee/ Bel juice and other Heat Hustlers supplied by Amma and gratefully glugged down by me. I was enveloped in a daze of words and dust, the old and the new, the ridiculous and the inspiring. And along the way I came across interesting stuff:

From "Do You Really Love Me? by R.D. Liang, M.D.

I die forlorn
I was not born

I deny
I'm a butterfly

I'm a blot
I am not

I'm a fight no one fought
I'm a cold no one caught

I'm the Self Appointed
Lord Anointed

I'm a turd
I'm absurd

I'm a twinkling light
in someone else's night

I'm an insoluble riddle
In a hole with no middle

I'm going to hell
to yell
and smell

I fiddle
when I piddle

I'm a nitwit
I'm a titbit

I'm a kinkie
like a pinkie

I'm a flower with no name
I grow all the same

I'm a piece of fluff
in the huff

Never learned the game
I left before I came


I'm a dot
God forgot

I'm past mending
I'm a happy ending

I found books that cost thousands and some priced a few anna. But judging a book by its price is nearly as erroneous as judging it by its cover. I had chuckled heartily at Jame's Thurber's 'Thurber Carnival'. How can one ever be bored/unhappy when there are the infinite joys of reading to be explored? Then there was 'The Book of Nonsense and Nonsense Songs' by Edward Lear (the man, along with Odgen Nash is sheer genius).

There was an Old Man of The Hague
Whose ideas were excessively vague;
He built a balloon
to examine the moon,
That deluded Old Man of the Hague.

There was a Young Lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin;
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.

(Half the fun is the illustrations but I do not have the energy or inclination to scan and upload them here.)

As I went over the books, I wanted to read them all. The daunting hard bound yet cheaply priced 'propaganda literature' - Marx's 'Das Capital' bought with a first salary, the details of which were lovingly etched on the first page. 'War and Peace' looked at me grimly as I flitted through the whole range of James Hadely chase. There was enough science fiction to set up a bookstore. Terry Pratchett and Peter F. Hamilton. The only familiar face being that of dear old Doughlas Adams. Books by Indian authors were found sitting lazily, a trifle nervous at being made to sit aside the Austens and Bronte sisters. I came across biographies and at least 20 different versions of the Bhagvada Gita. I shamefacedly looked at the beautiful volumes of the entire Mahabharata in Sanskrit, each verse translated into Hindi too. Books on mythology, books on science, some on music, several on art.

And then I came to the horror section, something I had dipped into as a curious teenager, graduating from the suspense of Agatha Christie and Ms. Marple to the sinister thrill of Edgar Allan Poe. I saw the cover of 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination', a white skull with black spiders running over it and I remembered the thrill with which I had flipped those pages, so many winters ago under the tall lemon tree with its chatter of babblers and mynahs. It seemed so far back, as if the memory belonged to another person. I wanted to retire suddenly, in my chair with a reading lamp and nimbu pani. A dog curled up ON my toes and silence. No worries of food. No rapacious interruptions from the internet. A pencil and perhaps a dictionary beside me, a pile of books around and my dog. Aah the bliss of a day dream.

Post script: Well I didn't manage to complete all the books, in fact I stopped at an uninspiring 300 but then isn't 'well begun is half done'!! :D

Post the Post Script: I am using a software called BookDB2 you may like to explore if wanting to get into the Book Cataloging Quagmire. It's easy to use (make that VERY easy to use), freely available online (no irritating signing up and registering of any sort required) and offers a lot of flexibility.


  1. I didn't realise you were so interested about them! Chal rahe hain. at a slower pace. I want to write about all of them, but then I get supremely lazy. Kuch toh bahut zyada achhi hain: Nishaant, Mandi, Katha, Aakrosh. A surprise was Maharathi (fairly new and starring Paresh Rawal and Boman Irani). So, Mr. Naseer, although second to the books, is still much watched and loved :)

  2. i was interested in the 'bheeshmpratigya' that you had taken. good to know that its still on.

    By the way you should start giving the books away or set up a library for people who can not afford.

  3. :) Yes its on. @ giving away books: Most aren't mine to give away. But in any case, that's one area I am terribly stingy about. I CANNOT part with books. I'm not ready for samaj seva here.

  4. come on.. you cant love books and give them away..
    the sting of one lost book lasts forever..

  5. you actually did that when you went to rasmai! i soooooo envy you :(



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