If amongst a myriad of other, more visible things happening, you didn’t notice, then here it is: today is the World Book Day. Books are important. They have been and will be. Be it in your personal hours of solitude or in the seemingly greater tasks of nation building, books have always been present. Only yesterday, a BJP MP asked for the Geeta to be made the National Book of the country. The National Book.
As if the multiple literary histories (some being made right now) of the country’s millenniums of cultural heritage, at times shared with other countries, can be neatly represented by one singular book relevant to one singular community. But this post is not about the history or the politics of the written word, you will have to wait for my very scholarly book for that. As my last post here, I offer knowledge about my one true addiction: I am a book hoarder. *cue dramatic sound effects*
As far as I can remember, collecting things was one of the only worthwhile hobbies I could find in my remote you-haven’t-heard-of-it-unless-you-are-an-engineering-student hometown. Sports never interested me and my slothful nature meant performing arts was out too. Collecting things meant competition and it meant owning things I felt were valuable. From Pokemon trump cards to stickers of WWF wrestlers to postcards to stamps to every other clichéd collectible, everything was duly noticed and collected. And then books happened.
First it started with slimmer comics, then the 90 specials. My parents and my brother had already jumpstarted my collection with their own collections of books – written or illustrated. I only had to build on that. The Three Musketeers met Rebecca, while the Wuthering Heights served as the backdrop. While classics dominated the scene for long, the first contemporary novel that I bought and which changed my life was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It was a special gift to myself that I made my parents pay for and I still remember the day I bought it.
Being from the aforedescribed town meant that there was only one bookstore. I had to wait for the two annual book fairs to restock my pitifully slowly growing collection. The school library was never too well-stocked and it was only years later that I came to know that the town actually did have a public one. I was still a good child and stealing books was still stealing, which meant thunders would roar through the air and chop my hands off. And pocket money was limited. Very limited. Moving to the state capital, Guwahati, introduced me to the idea of second hand book shops.
That was the year I was supposed to have spent on preparing for engineering entrances and that was the year I spent buying and reading second hand books in piles. My move to arts from science is due to that one year of immersive reading, backed by years of hatred for trigonometric and physics. At the end of that year, my parents were shocked by the number of books I dragged back home. My move to Delhi after that only meant that I got more places to hoard books from. The first time I went to the Daryaganj Book Bazaar was the first time I met this friend of a friend and we were drenched to our bones. That still didn’t mean that we didn’t get enough books to open up a small library.
The book fairs at Pragati Maidan were eye openers; the ones back home were not even 1/100th of them in sheer magnitude. More and more books made their way in. Rare editions of Ghosh, dirt cheap copies of Barnes, Granta issues bought by handfuls. So much so that, now that my days in DU are coming to an end, the prospect of moving them to a new location makes me shudder.
I have more books than I can ever read and I have no intentions of stopping. Sometimes it is the written word itself, sometimes the cover, sometimes even the title and many a times combinations of the three, I have been shallow on more occasions than ten. Some of my loveliest finds were not in swanky bookshops but in places that don’t get as many footfalls as they deserve. The Daryaganj Sunday Book Bazaar, the book sales at the May Day Bookstore & Café and the second hand bookshops at Panbazaar in Guwahati have yielded such surprises. Second hand books deserve a post of their own.
Imagine buying a Sartre, only to find a letter from the 70s stuck inside or a book on Iranian women and then a photograph of a colourful door waiting for you between the pages. Maybe the previous owners left them there when they let their books go, so that a part of them always remained within the books. Or maybe they just forgot. Either way, this passing of memories in forms of tangible things is something significant. You don’t just own the book they used to own, all the little somethings pressed or scribbled between the pages mean that you own moments from their memories too. Much before Inception, second hand books have been doing something similar for long.
So, for the fresh off the train student who might be reading this, only one bit of an advice, go to Daryaganj on a Sunday. Make weekly or even bi/monthly visits to that place a concrete part of your life in this city of extreme weathers. The mindboggling array of books will astound you and make you happy and will make your book collection grow faster than ever before and a good book collection also doubles up as really good home decoration.
Flipkart is easy but buying books in person is educational. No one remembers “arey that one time when I ordered Half Girlfriend off Infibeam”, but stories about book hunting in actual places always make up for very good conversation material on dates. Books are wonderful and they are important. You can have that over priced latte any other day, why don’t you gift yourself a book today instead?
Image Credits: www.stsebastiansliverpool.co.uk
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