LIVING WITHIN STORIES-what it feels like to love books
I have a lot of fond memories that seem to rattle noisily in their (imaginary) box until I take them out and examine them at leisure and then carefully repack them (often adding colorful details)for future sessions of nostalgia. Moments with family and friends, several special places and smells make up these memories. A lot of them though, are associated with books.
Among the first things that I read I remember the story of snow white most clearly. I read it out of a glossy book with huge pictures that I kept moving my (then)cuddly little hands over, mesmerized and in a trance. A long period of boycotting apples followed. After a lot of bailey school, famous five, secret seven and “illustrated classics for children” borrowed from the school library ,I stumbled upon the love of my life-the harry potter books. i spent countless amount of time and thought over the 7 books that essentially created my childhood. Reading on the dinner table, taking the books everywhere, meticulously arranging and dusting and smelling them, all began after harry potter. Inspired, I began to devour books by the hour. Modern series like Percy Jackson, hunger games , twilight(although let’s not talk about it) followed . I began to read diasporic literature .vikram seth’s suitable boy occupies the most special corner in my heart. (and I’m waiting for the time when I can say the same for “a suitable girl” )and so does jhumpa lahiri’s namesake. kiran desai’s the inheritance of loss , chitra banerjee’s mistress of spices ,and arundhati roy’s god of small things (“Another world is not only possible ,she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”)all struck special cords.
Birthday gifts meant novels. i would make a list of the books I would want and give it to my family and friends who would then buy them for me and I would read them for the next several weeks. some books, I would read, re read and then read again .everytime I read the book again I would discover something new. ”See”, I would tell myself ”you can never read the same book twice” .
When I would run out of books (which was frightening) the school library would come to my rescue. The sullen librarian would look at the book I brought up to her and tell me what a nasty book it was. It is not for you, she would say. Always.Without fail.And I would feel defensive for the writer and console the book silently. ”ignore her” I would chant in my mind. Always.Without fail.
Having a book with me was essential, even if I did not read it, for I would always need it to comfort me physically. After paying a ridiculous amount of money for all the books I bought, I succumbed to the kindle but could not love it the way I loved my paperbacks. Ofcourse, it was more convenient to use-it was lighter to carry around, I could look up words easily, i could set the brightness and font size in accordance to my myopic eyes, the kindle would learn my reading speed and keep giving updates to encourage me ( 2 hrs and 8 minutes to complete the book ! ) , I could highlight the passages I loved and it could hold a humongous amount of books. But I still loved my books because I could smell them, and simply because I was used to them being around me all the time. I would always want to be able to put a beautiful flower in a poetry book or be surprised to find a dried up leaf from ages ago in an old Ruskin bond.
I began to fantasize meeting writers- looking for Ruskin bond on my trips to delhi , musoorie, or dehradun, imagining running into sudha murthy at the Bangalore airport or catching dan brown in disguise in some old rural shrine.
“I love your books” I would tell them.
“Thankyou dear, come visit me in the hills” uncle bond would reply.
“Thankyou ! but the plot of my next book’s a secret so no one should know I’m here” a shocked but charming dan brown would reply.
Ofcourse these compliments –turning- into -hour -long –talk conversations never happened. Last year , I met ashwin sanghi at a lit fest and he smilingly signed my books. Politely Offering me the parathas he was snacking on(to which I politely refused), he asked a couple of questions(what do i study, and what does my name mean, to be exact ) and I nervously mumbled the answers, in slightly wrong english. That memory, although slightly embarrassing, is a treasured one.
My love (or need, rather) for these stories in my life, led me to take up literature. I now have several similar minds to talk to, those whose lives are formed , like mine, feasting on stories. Without all these books, most of which are written by authors long dead now, my life would be much different. Strange even. It would still be beautiful because I have wonderful people in it , who love me unconditionally , but it wouldn’t have been the same without all my friends that exist on paper, exclusively for me, I like to think.