Romancing the Books

Have you ever smelt the books you’ve read ? And if you have, then reading can never be perfunctorily dismissed as simply reading, it is always a romance.Book shops and old libraries can never lose their charm despite the ever-increasing onslaught of the ‘e-‘ brigade.

I flipped open a book with roughened yellow pages, which had probably been thumbed by hundreds of readers. The print was still good and I buried my nose in the book  to smell that delightful smell of warmth and vacations…

The first day of summer vacations; the beginning of idyllic days ahead , hot and dry and with the wings of freedom to do what we chose. Let loose from the drudgery of school, my brother and I would make a beeline to ‘Apna Pustakalaya’, a rusty lending library in the small township of Bhilai. The proprietor, a rustic guy of around 40 with a bushy moustache would be perched atop his usual stool behind the front counter. The library was, by no means something to rave about and was no more than a roughly patched up tin shed. But to our eyes , it was nothing short of a heaven for our vacation starved hearts. Rows and rows of books lined neatly in shelves would be grouped under different sections. The books were mostly old, but well maintained in their bound jackets. The moment we entered, we would get lost in the mad frenzy of hunting for the Sydney Sheldons, Agatha Christies, Robert Ludlums and the like. And when we managed to unearth an unread one, we would hold on it to like a treasure. There were shelves lined with Cowboy stories, which mostly gathered dust , and the ones with Mills n Boons that would see girls surreptitiously snatching a book or two.
But the real cherries on the cake were the occasional Archie Digests, the Tintins and the Asterix we chanced upon. Knowing their prized status, the owner would normally keep them under the counter and would give them out only to favored and loyal customers. We would stand in line and murmur in our best endearing voices and would often be rewarded when he brought out an old Asterix from underneath the counter. We were allowed to take 10-12 books on one trip and could make as many trips as we wanted for a measly charge of 30 Rs a month

We would stagger under the weight of the books but our steps were buoyant on the way home.The bookstore was a witness to our growing up as we graduated from St Claires, Famous Fives and Secret Sevens to Perry Masons, Alistair McLeans and Alfred Hitchcock.
Its been several years since I left the town forever but I am sure that ‘Apna Pustakalaya’ still stands as it was and it continues to bring the joy of reading and of vacations to hundreds of children there.

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11 thoughts on “Romancing the Books

  1. Rahul

    One of my favourite quotes:

    “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

    – Sir Francis Bacon

  2. The Nomad

    Oh yes, the good old days of apna pustakalaya…

    You know, right now I have 8 unread novels right in front of me, one half-read Crichton (I never knew what was a half-read novel during those days) – but somehow something is missing. I don’t find the mood I need to read them with relish. They are a sort of wine to me- i just dont want to read them while on the bus or finish them because they are there – I want to really cherish them when I read and forget everything else. I cannot read 10 pages a day like most people do, I need to get drunk on the wine, I guess.

    This time at home, I read a few novels my sister bought me (the present ones also were parceled by her), and after much analysis I came to the conclusion, it is not just the time (or lack of it) – it is also the complete lack of responsibility that adds to my perception of availability of time- that I absolutely need for reading. Responsibility regarding how the food will magically appear at meal times, how magically my clothes will be washed, and magically the house gets cleaned… so in that way, I do miss my magic genie mom. And that is why, once I started working in 2003, I stopped reading. And when I go home, I still read.

    I have noticed my sister-in-law doing the same thing, no matter what books she has in Delhi, she does not read. And when she is home (in UP) she sometimes gets lost in reading even the newspaper that a grocery item was wrapped in…

    My area’s apna p. had been made into a saree shop the last few years, this time I saw it has been remade into a library. But things are different now. I always saw it empty. The kids are different now, they flock to the computer parlors, not libraries.

  3. PhillyGuy

    Aah nostalgia….while I can’t picture apna pustakalya….delhi public library comes to mind when I read this post…..perhaps this is why people, even strangers, from a similar generation and place connect irrespective of when they meet. This is why school/college mates bond like the way they do. Shared experiences.

    Any other place and this act of smelling the book could be incomprehensible……to me not only is it comprehensible, its almost an act of religious communion 🙂 The smell of old books, especially unread books, conveyed the joys of sweet anticipation. And here I thought you were agnostic!

    Any other time and this wouldn’t have applied either. Video games and electronic devices now compete for the attention of kids that age, while prior to our age kids were expected to help out with either the household or the trade. We were unique in many ways. So much leisure time, and books as the main needs to fill that. Well, cricket too. But in the hot summers of Delhi that was only possible in the evenings (nobody woke up early to play cricket!).

    1. Yes. Its so difficult to make somebody understand this. You are either a part of that fraternity or you are not. No two ways about it !
      I used to love the smell of old books, libraries.. new books have a different smell. Hated the smell of medical books which belonged to my parents.

  4. Jigyasa

    Apna Pustkalaya………. always loved to be there……… i am back to the memory lane reading your post… those were the days…..

      1. That’s the reason why a kindle or any other e-reader can never compete. The touch, feel and smell of a book while reading is an experience in itself. The ‘Apna Pustakalaya’ reminds of me of a library in a remote cantonment town that was run by an old book lover. Ah the memories.

      2. Thanks Subroto for visiting and commenting ! Reading in a kindle is a very ‘sanitized’ experience for me , if I could call it that. It can never compete with the ‘flesh and blood’ of a book !

  5. What a delightful description of the ‘library’! The smell of books is unparalleled and that of old books even more so, if such an expression is permitted 🙂 For me the magic room in grandfather’s house was the library and despite having so many cousins, I was the only ‘member’. It didn’t matter what one read, so long as there was something to read. I agree with Nomad above, in that the absence of responsibility is a prerequisite for reading pleasure.

    1. The room in your grandpa’s house really sounds magical. you had your library right there, what else could you want 🙂
      Yes, absence of responsibility is a big thing. I hardly ‘read’ these days.. coz there are hundred thoughts flooding my mind about things that are waiting to get done.

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