Archive | October 2013

Gone With The Wind

gone-with-the-wind

When my mother was halfway through Gone with the Wind, my neighbor who had lent it to her, asked for it back since she had to return it to her college library. For some reason, she wasn’t able to renew it for a few more days. Some agonizing weeks and desperate, futile inquiries later, a family friend got her a copy from his college library, a government college library where it had been collecting dust over the years.  Thrilled, she spent long nights sitting on the kitchen step after her chores, picking up the book from where she had been rudely interrupted.

My mother has the habit of making characters from the book she is currently reading a household name. She tells us anecdotes from the books or makes character comparisons to real life people.  So even before I read the book, I had a pretty good idea about Scarlett O’Hara, the size of her waist and the political situation in the United States back then. I once even referred to the civil war in a school essay, totally out of syllabus.  And then, some time later, I sat through two video cassettes of the movie, without a clue as to what was going on. But at 13, I knew that Gone with the Wind was something big. Something I had to put down on my List.

Three years later, digging into the shelves of the public library, the one where all books had a uniform uncharacteristic brown binding and were stacked two deep in wooden cupboards that smelled of Book, I stumbled across a fat copy of Gone with The Wind. It had last been checked out almost seven years ago. It was my time to discover Scarlett O’Hara.

I was all of 16, the age where I believed that First Love could be the only love. Oh, how I rooted for Ashley. My penfriend from Calcutta was reading the book at the same time and we exchanged blue inland letters filled with our thoughts about goody-goody Melanie, the cad that Rhett was and kept our fingers crossed for Scarlett to finally get Ashley. She didn’t ,and I shut the book totally disappointed.

More than a decade later, I picked up a copy from a footpath in Bangalore. It was like reading it with Lasiked eyes this time. The book seemed completely different from the last time I’d read it. Scarlett had matured with me. I no longer related to the frivolous girl, flirting with the twins and yearning for a wimpy Ashley. She was the woman fighting the war now. I wept the tears Scarlett didn’t, thought the thoughts she’d planned to think Tomorrow and ran through the mist with her, searching for Rhett.  Suave Rhett. With the image of Clark Gable flashing in every smirk, every smile , Rhett was The Man this time. The cad, the lover, the father and finally, the husband. The one I rooted for.

And then I went and big fat read Scarlett. I had to read Gone with the Wind again. To remove the bad taste the sequel had left in my mind.

And also, since I hoped that this time Rhett would change his mind and stay.

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V K Circulation Library

Many mornings I wake up with a Rebeccaesque ‘Last night I dreamt of V.K Library again…’ Sometimes it is the library at its original location, next to The South Indian Bank. I would cross the ‘bridge’ over the shiny zinc roof underneath and enter the tiny book filled room, the one my mother probably took me to even before I learnt to walk, and pick out a Mark and Mandy book.  Other times, I would find myself staring helplessly at a wall of Mills and Boons or breathing  in the smell of glue and dust in the Book Repair room at the back. Sometimes I would have a happy, contented dream reading a hardcover Nancy Drew and The Whispering Statue.

V.K Circulation library. One of the major influences that shaped my childhood. A long corridor of magical memories.

What had started off as someone’s private collection of books, slowly grew over the years into a full fledged and the only private library in our tiny town. It reached the peak of its glory in the 80s and died a sad death in a makeshift utility room on the roof of a shopping complex. Today, the library, or the building where the library was, is unrecognizable. Torn down and converted into a large generic hall that housed a textile showroom and a hardware store for a while and is now a restaurant. But to me, the place continues to invoke some of the fondest memories of my growing up years.

It was the place where I graduated from Mark and Mandy to Enid Blytons. Where I devoured the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys with aggressive ambition and kept track of the ones I’d read from the list on the back cover. Where Trixie Belden came into my life and put me through a phase where I called my mother Moms. Where I learnt history and mythology from the bound volumes of Amar Chitra Katha. From where my mother would sometimes ask me to close my eyes and pick out a random dumb-read Mills and Boon or ask me to dig out a specific James Herriot or Jim Corbett when she was too lazy to go to the library herself. Where I sneaked out my first Silhouette Romance novel and later Crosswinds-Keepsakes with the boy-girl covers. Where I experimented with books beyond my age, one with a windowed outer cover that showed just the stillettoed foot of the woman on the inside cover. Where as a teenager, I tried to read The Exorcist inspite of my mother’s ban on it. I still haven’t recovered from the disgust. Where I was shooed away when I tried to browse the shelf behind the librarian which, many years later, I learnt housed the dirty books. Where many times, I’ve lost myself in a book and lay sprawled on the floor reading it, until the librarian anna tapped me on my shoulder and chased me out

The place where I spent my entire monthly pocket money  on books. ‘Reading’ books cost 7% of the marked price and comics cost 10% of the marked price, per week.  We neighbourhood kids tried to get more value for money and designed an elaborate exchange scheme where we agreed to read and exchange the maximum number of books with each other within the week. And as shrewd as we were, it was always a ‘reading’ book for a ‘reading’ book and a comic for a comic. The bound Richie Rich comics that had four slim issues were counted as a single book and could not be exchanged against four slim black and white Mandy-Judy-Bunty-Debbie comics. ‘Unequal’ books could be exchanged only in special cases and own books could not be exchanged against library books. Fights over The Policy have sometimes resulted in a thump on the head with a hardcover or scratched up hands.

I’ve also earned my books. Chitrakka, my neighbour had lovely, long but lice infested hair. I was hired to de-lice her hair every weekend. As gross as it may sound, I got paid 10 paise per louse and 5 paise per nit, the amount which could be redeemed as a book from her membership. She actually took out the membership in my name and gifted it to me when she got married and left. A141. Each time I met a Lice Target, I would run and grab a Mills and Boon for her and a lice earned book of my choice for myself .

When I was 13 the uncle who owned the library offered me a summer job there. It was one of the best summers of my life. He actually owned the video section of the library, but after I had indexed and arranged the video cassettes, I would slowly sneak out to arrange the books. Of course, it took me almost a whole day to arrange just one shelf in between reading. I got paid a princely sum of Rs.200 for the job.

As an adult, I somehow frequented the library lesser and lesser. More books were returned unread because I suddenly found better things to do. When I got back to the reading habit, I had changed. I became more of a buy person than a borrow person. I wanted to read on terms and time that I decided.  But by then, the library too had  lost its original character.

And then progress happened. Satellite TV happened. The town got richer and needed space for Better Things.  The generation that read more gave way to the generation that watched more and later, browsed more. The reading population in town slowly dwindled down and the reading habit died. And along with it, so did V K Circulation Library.

Someday I dream of starting a library in my town again. One where kids could sprawl themselves on the floor and devour books for lunch. Where an entire afternoon could be spent breathing in freshly varnished woody shelves and dusty old print.  One where they could learn about The Mughals in Amar Chitra Kathas and remain innocent to the hidden racism in Phantom comics. One which would now have shelves of Harry Potter and Twilight, but would also have old Nancy Drews ,Hardy Boys, Dana Girls and Bobbsey Twins sourced from secondhand shops. Those that would keep children believing that Carolyn Keene and Franklin W Dixon were real persons. A library where the 50 Shades Trilogy would be placed in the shelf behind the strict librarian. A place where I could rediscover my childhood. A place where I could give future generations theirs.

Someday.

The Book Stories

Every time I go home, I stand in front of this bookshelf and slide the glass doors open. The musty smell of old print and naphthalene balls hits my senses, I breathe it in. I caress the spines of the books, first with my eyes and then with the tips of my fingers.  Fondly, gently.  Every book in this shelf has its own story. A treasure chest of memories, two deep, two high.

I have this policy when it comes to books.  As unscrupulous as it sounds, I believe that borrowed books need not be returned unless the lender asks for it back. The logic behind this is that if the person actually cares for the book, they’ll want it back.   If not, the book is in a better , happier home with us. Well, not exactly stealing, is it? So half, ok, that’s an exaggeration, twenty percent of the books in my house aren’t technically mine. But since they’ve lived on this bookshelf for more than a decade, ignored by their rightful owners, it makes them naturalized citizens of my bookshelf.

The stories of the books in this blog are all before online shopping made acquiring books too easy and impersonal. Some of these books were picked out from a pile of tattered secondhand books in front of Sada’s vadai shop. The ones he felt were too complete to tear up and wrap greasy vadais in.  Some of them, lovingly gifted by people who couldn’t actually read them. There are a few, un-returned to the library that was shutting down (I told you, unscrupulous). Some, bartered with fellow book lovers for mutually preferred authors. Some, pirated copies picked up from outside railway stations. (I don’t buy pirated books now). There are sample copies of books that were sent by publishers to my English Professor uncle . Books left behind by guests who had no space in their luggage after holiday shopping. There are a couple of books that someone had left behind on the train. There’s nothing more painful that losing a book that you’re halfway through. If those books had an address on them, I certainly would have sent them back.

I have a copy of Irving Wallace’s The Second Lady  with the last few pages missing. I still don’t know what happened to the fake First Lady. I have a gilt edged copy of The Pilgrims’ Progress, antique, but unread. I have Little Women in various stages of abridgment. Right from the simplest version I received as a prize in 5th standard up to the original unabridged version I bought a few years back. And then are also three copies of Five Point Someone.

There won’t be many book reviews on this blog. Just the stories behind each little book.

http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/story-your-life-your-bookshelf-20131020 is what inspired me to start this blog today.