It was just over a year when I wrote about my boyish pleasure of arranging my books and stepping back after placing each book in its right – well, maybe it should go there… or perhaps there… now, it does look fine – place and cupping my hands in glee. I am mighty ashamed of the way I behaved then, lusting for more books to appear from the cartons, pretending that I had a few more books stashed away somewhere else, chiding myself for having so many books and not having read them all – in short, taking turns to act like a reprimanding mother and prancing child. It seemed like yesterday because I had re-arranged my books once again before I brought them all back to Madras. With several overflowing cartons of books now, I am sure I have twice as many books as I had when I last wrote about my stash. May my coffers overflow!!
But this time I do not intend writing about the authors I have or the books I think everyone should read. I do not wish to talk about the exciting job of creating categories and figuring out which book belongs to which category (would Bend Sinister be a favourite or a fiction piece or a classic? Should Harold Bloom come under classics or general? By the way, how did I define classic?). It is not because I have already done that before, but because I realised an ulterior motive of mine behind collecting so many books. I shamelessly faced this truth a few years ago when I watched Sabrina (the Harrison Ford version) and today when I read Orhan Pamuk.
Sabrina’s (Julia Ormond) father (John Wood) made some statement (and I am unable to find the script of the movie) about how much he loved reading and hence, took the job of a chauffeur. I am not sure if I will allow myself to be quoted on that. That day, I thought that was the most romantic dialogue I had heard in a very long time. People thought the movie was a romantic one for totally different reasons!
Today, Pamuk made me realise one of the reasons why I hand pick my books and build this tremendously large collection of books (I am sure there are larger collections, but this is considered large in the clique of nomads). There are several reasons, but this one was lurking in the shadows for a while and I was startled to see this midget of a reason, brightly clothed and still hopeful of fruition.
I always wanted to have a son (but now I have shifted loyalties) whom I could seat on my knee and read to. I always dreamed of long houred scenes where I would read to him, wonder aloud at the choice of words, imagine conversations with the author to gain entrance into his thoughts as to why he said this and not that and why his characters did this and not that, enact scenes with my son and eventually play games where we quote dialogues and pray hard that the other person doesn’t guess the name of the character and story (well, chocolates are better won than given and shared in the sympathy of family!). I would imagine scenes like this:
Him: Appa, what is a corolla?
I: Well, it’s often just another name for all the petals of a flower. Of course, if the outer and inner petals differed in colour then then I think the corolla might refer only to the inner whorl. Not sure.
Him: So it is entirely a botany term?
I: Nothing is entirely one thing, sweetheart.
Him: But where else can you use this?
I: Toyota Corolla!
Him: Dad! But now that you mention it, why did they name their car that?
I: Brightly coloured and made to attract the observer, perhaps. Maybe something to do with being aware and mindful of Nature.
Him: So there is one more use to it.
I: A lot more, I am sure.
I: You could use corolla to signify clustering and crowding of like-minded people over a singular point of view.
Him: Hmmm. Nice.
I: You could use corolla to describe something furbelowed. Remember we discussed furbelow?
Him: furbelow as in fur below as in furs and decorations…
I: As in?
Him: Pleated or gathered garment.
I: Good. Now let me read some thing. Get me that book from the 2nd shelf. Yes, that one. Thank you. Sit down and close your eyes. I will read once and…
Him: I have to familiarise myself with the words. Then you will read once more and I will see the scenes dance before me. I know the routine, appa.
I: Routine!? You call it a routine!?
Him: Not in a disrespectful way!
I: Be careful, boy. You seem to be slipping! 😀 Now listen:
His sentimental education now went on fast. Next morning, he happened to catch sight of her washing her face and arms over an old-fashioned basin on a rococo stand, her hair knotted on the top of her head, her nightgown twisted around her waist like a clumsy corolla out of which issued her slim back, rib-shaded on the near side. A fat snake of porcelain curled around the basin, and as both the reptile and he stopped to watch Eve and the soft woggle of her bud-breasts in profile, a big mulberry-colored cake of soap slithered out of her hand, and her black-socked foot hooked the door shut with a bang which was more the echo of the soap’s crashing against the marble board than a sign of pudic displeasure.
I: Listen to how he suggests a casual demeanour by saying….
And we’d go on and on about that one paragraph, pausing not for the hurried urgencies of practical life where hours run into one another demanding five dozen minutes’ worth of distance run and no second spared for the panting heart. Oh! how we pant while life goes by waiting not to admire the outline of dust on a cover which reveals a smaller book’s shadow when they were all stacked one on another! How it takes more time to pick the smaller tome, in order to ensure that clean skin, untouched by wafting dirt, a clean rectangle surrounded by evenly powder brown track! Ever noticed that the inner rectangle is usually not parallel to the outer boundaries of the larger book? An accidental design which one can miss while one stops not to pant.
My dad loved literature, or so I believed. Something in some of his statements made me think he loved Shakespeare. I tried reading the Bard and found him stupid. I never voiced my opinion and hence, my father knew nothing about my judgement of the great one! He loved P G Wodehouse too and had this beautifully decorated Omnibus with a multicoloured Rolls Royce on the covers. I don’t know where it is now. I imagine my love for words is a weaving together of all the disorganised genes of my father because he never revealed a unified love for the written word. There were sporadic bursts of interest and occasionally (or so I believe) a passionate outburst about the beauty of English as it was and probably should have been. I collected these peels that were tossed around to compose my memory of my father as a lover of letters. But he never had a library (unlike Pamuk’s father, but my father was witty!) and he never really (vocally) encouraged reading let alone writing. My father would have been extremely surprised today if someone told him that his son writes! But in his own way, he let us know and realise that literature had to be treasured and nurtured like life itself, for life is a story that is written, though, yet unread.
Maybe the Western concept of reading bedtime tales (which I read about in one of the many books of my childhood) had bubbled in me a little want to connect to people through the beauty that other people created as a festoon of words. Maybe it was the chance of sharing perspectives arising out of the same collection of symbols and string of such collections over beautiful pages. Maybe it was simply the sound of words cascading in voices that we love to hear drive us into a world of dreams and possibilities. Maybe it was just the story itself made real because someone you trust tells you so. Maybe it was just excuse for creating another bond.
My books have multiplied into hundreds now though my hopes dwindle. Books read are promises to give a young ear. Books unread are promises for a journey together. Books are the extensions of my hands which reach out to young shoulders. Books are my way of giving what I wanted to give myself.