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Friday, November 26, 2010

My Oldest Book...And Its Memories


I am one of those eternal book-worms who, no matter the place or time, is always found with a book in hand, or as is the case on certain occasions, in the handbag. All my friends have at one point or the other, given voice to this statement.
I have always proudly stated the fact that I am die-hard book-lover. And my house is a testament to that statement. My bookshelf is packed from bottom to top with books – horizontal, vertical, diagonal, wherever there is even a teeny-tiny bit of space left, I have used it all up to introduce a book in between.
My love for books is a little partial – the older the book the more I love it. And I just love the smell of old books, though I also love the ones that are fresh off the press, but there is always a certain charm and story in a book that is old, that has had another keeper before me, and I love to smell those pages, to feel the hands that must have turned these very pages that I am now turning, in a different era, in a different place, maybe in another country altogether.

One of the oldest books that has lived on my bookshelf, is the novel titled ‘Hotel’ by author Arthur Hailey. It’s been almost twenty years now that I have the book with me.



The story of me becoming the proud keeper of this book is very close to my heart.
As a child I have always been drawn to books, even as I was a little girl of three, I remember my ma would sit with me on a cold winter afternoon, the sun shining shyly through the clouds, and me and ma poring together over a book -my eyes wide with the bright big pictures, while ma would read out the story word-by-word. And it was no wonder where my love for books came from. My ma was, and still is, an avid reader, and my maternal grandfather is the one before her who always shared a love, no, passion, for books.
So it was always a treat whenever we used to visit him during school vacations in his home in Assam, his room filled with bookcases that were stacked from top-to-bottom with books, very much the way my bookshelf at home now looks.
It was always my most favourite spot in the house. The bookshelf with all its charming titles was left open to me to browse and go through. As I grew from a three-year-old to a young child who could understand and appreciate books more, I was allowed to open the titles and read books that I could understand. My maternal grandfather never stopped me from picking up a title and reading it, just because ‘I was not the right age.’ He believed that, if I understood the concept and the writer’s point properly, I could try and give it a read. Of course there were certain books that were always off-limit – ‘you will get these when you grow up.’
On one such visit I was browsing through the bookshelf when I came across this red-covered book amidst thick leather-bound books. The red of the cover was what drew me to it in the first place. And the fact that it had a door-knob on its cover with a key dangling from it that said ‘St. Gregory’ was an even bigger mystery. I took out the book and turned to the back cover. It was a story about a ‘hotel’ , ‘St. Gregory Hotel’ in New Orleans to be precise, and the book’s characters were vividly drawn from tycoons of the hotel industry, the guests, the staff, men and women, young and old, the dedicated and the amoral. There is a robbery and blackmail at the hotel, a near-disastrous orgy and a takeover battle and a love story, and many more such incidents that remain etched in the minds of the readers along with the characters.
Of course I was not at an age right then to understand the whole of it. So I took the book to my grandfather and asked him if I could borrow it. The rule that time was that whatever book I could understand I was free to keep, but a book that I did not understand needed to be borrowed from him and returned. He told me I could read a bit of it and try again later, when I grew up a little more. I started reading the pages, but by the time my vacation was over, though I had only been able to understand the first few pages, I had started to like the book a lot. So I begged him to let me keep the book. ‘I know you will take care of it, so take it, and read it slowly. You will understand it better once you grow up.’ And that book became mine. It has been on my bookshelf ever since then, and I spent the initial few years reading it a few pages at a time. As I grew up, the book and its characters seemed to grow with me, and I began to understand their lives better, in a more understanding light than what I had thought the previous year.
The first page of the book has my grandfather’s handwriting on it, his name, Kalibhushan Banerjee, written in cursive with an ink pen. He is now no more, and this sign of his will always stay with me, reminding me of those wonderful visits I had at his place, and the love of books that he has left me as a priceless legacy.


The second page of the book has my grandmother’s handwriting. She had presented it to him on his birthday, and it lovingly reads in her cursive handwriting, in an ink pen again, ‘To K Banerjee, on his birthday, from Bibha. 6.1.79’ she too is no more, and I can only look at this handwriting now to smile at those wonderful years that will forever be cherished in my memory.


As I see these handwritings, even now I can see the way their hands and mine write in a similar fashion.
I can never let this book go. How can I? when it represents to me the love and memories of my grandparents. They are the ones who helped and fuelled my ma’s and my interest in books, and for that I am forever grateful. I can never let this book part from me, it holds too many precious memories, memories that are mine and I will not allow to be shared. Memories of those days spent at the bookshelf, at those evenings discussing a writer or a book, those tea-time chats of who is reading what and sharing our thoughts on varied topics.
I thought I would forever keep this book with me, well, that cannot be. I have to be gone one day, the book will still live on. And though I was sure I would never be able to decide who to pass on the book to, now I know who is its rightful owner.
My little daughter of three is exactly like me. She is a book-worm, and can spend the whole day happily by just reading books. Like me, she too has her own bookcase, already crammed with her many books. And going by the love she has for books, I know she is the right person who should be made the keeper of this book and its memories.
My grandfather never had a chance to meet her, my grandmother did, that too only once, and I am sure this book will give her a piece of all those memories that have been mine over all these years.