Books Go, Memories Stay

Books Go, Memories Stay

My books have invisible hooks to my memories. Some bitter sweet events in my life. I have discarded some of my books today. And I cried. Only book-lovers will understand me.

I started reading very early. As a child I remember sleeping next to my father who would read a newspaper and ask me to recognize a word. Not a letter, but a word. Reading became a passion since then I guess.

I wasn’t really attached to the school books. Loss of a school book really didn’t mean much, except the fear of facing parents’ rebuke. One doesn’t invest emotionally in the school text books. I guess it is all about whether you associate pleasure or pain with an object. Story books in my young days were not bought, they were borrowed from libraries. Library books to a book lover is like what taxi is to a man. You may enjoy the ride, but your memories are stamped on a car only if you own it. On a taxi? No! Books when owned become your emotional journals.

From my first pay I bought a saree for my mother. And from my next few salaries I picked up many books. I used to work for Tata Power and their office was in Sterling Cinema building’s top floor. So many book shops including Strand Book Stall were within easy reach. Thus began my library.

I read labour law. My job demanded it. So I subscribed to labour journals, and at the year-end I got them bound. I watched with pride the red leather binding with my name imprinted in golden letters. There were at least forty volumes. Those volumes also served the purpose of impressing people [obviously only those who did not know me well!].

I later added many management books and books of my favourite authors. Fritjof Capra, VS Naipaul, Khushwant Singh, Osho and Lord Deming sat on the shelves of my library. I collected several biographies. Later Anand Awadhani of Unique Features presented several Marathi books.

Then came the dark day. We were shifting to a new residence after my retirement. It was smaller apartment. Space shortage attacked my library. Wife suggested that my books must be discarded. I refused to part with my books. But eventually I gave in, as always I do, and discarded the law books with leather binding, with my name printed in gold letters. I lost a part of me that day. It was like losing a case in the Supreme Court.

The second wave of discarding happened yesterday. After shifting to our small apartment, I had continued to buy books. So once again space became a constraint. I gave up the big thick volumes of Ghaiye on Disciplinary inquiries and Misconducts. My job required me to open those volumes almost every day. I put them on the floor so that those could be handed over to ‘raddiwala.’ My eyes then fell on the Report of the First National Commission on Labour. That was an excellent report penned by Justice Mr Gajendragadkar. I had picked it up for ten rupees in 1972! For insights in industrial relations of that era, it was essential to read it. I had not touched it for several months. Some books are for reference, this was one outstanding one. You can’t say that of the Report of the Second national Commission on Labour. Three volumes of trash! Those too dropped on the floor.

Any more to discard? I sought answer on the shelf.

I saw half a dozen books. I had collected those when I visited Port of Spain in Trinidad, and I had collected some while in Fiji. Those books chronicled the life of the indentured labour. They were called ‘Girmitiyas’ which was the version of agreement. Those who signed agreement for expatriation were ‘Girmitiyas.’ There were stories of harassment, frustration, misery, exploitation and rapes! There stories were of their futile search for a better life.

In the West Indies I had met a person whose father wept when he saw his son swim in the swimming pool where only whites were once allowed. I had met a 103 year old lady whose parents had moved there as indentured labour when she was just a three year old one. She had graciously offered me a cup of tea – I was from the land from which she had come!

Memories flooded, so tears flooded my eyes.

I had seen dreams of camping again in West Indies and Fiji to write about the Indian diaspora. This was the preparation for it. But I knew that that project would not happen. Something inside told me that time was running out, and I had to acknowledge it.

There are still many books left on the shelf. Lord Deming’s three volumes. A large collection of Osho. Some biographies.

And also there are some open spaces – to remind me that I must learn to give up. And that I have to learn to treasure my collection on Kindle. I will have to tell myself every day to respect the eBooks.

Books can be discarded. Memories can’t be.

Vivek S Patwardhan