This is a lovestory.
A story about a grumpy faced man, who lived in a room with the floor littered with newspapers, on a bed covered with books. No, that man wasn’t my lover. He was my grandfather, my Baba. A bibliophile he was, he used to spend all of his pension money on books, much to the disapproval of my grandmother who used to think that she could have used the extra money to buy sarees and gold. No wonder there are some 10,000 books at our home right now. So this is the story of how my Baba made me fall in love with books.
My mother told me that the first time Baba held me in his arms, he said, “She is going to be a bibliophile like me.” Not a cliched dialogue like, “She is going to be a doctor” or “She is going to be an Engineer”, but a bibliophile. He explained to me the meaning of bibliophile 3 years later when he gave me the very first book of my life, having taught me how to read in just 3 months, I was a quick learner you know, he gave me an abridged version of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’. It was really difficult for me. But he didn’t give up. He would sit with me for hours and explain to me each and every word of each and every line. At first it felt like torture, I would scream and wail to let me go and play (c’mon, I was just a wee kid). But he won’t listen. This exercise continued for days, months, with different books. The abridged versions of ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Secret Garden’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ and many more. Then I started liking the exercise. I would sit with him and read the books myself.
At the age of 4 when the kids of my age were struggling with alphabets, I had moved over to abridged versions of classics. At the age of 5 when my friends started reading ‘Magic Pot’, I was reading the National Geographic Magazine. At a age when I should have been singing the theme songs of cartoon shows, I was busy chanting famous lines from Shakespearean plays! And my Baba, he was really very proud of me. I could see it in his eyes, his big, penetrating eyes. He was quite thrasonical about it too. He would boast about his vast knowledge in front of our relatives and how he passed it on to me. There was this time when one of our relatives came home to tell us about his son who got a job in America. He spoke in great lengths and measures. At the end of his speech, which was like after an eternity, my grandfather asked him, “Do you know about Ethiopia?”
Baba: “Do you know how many people are dying out there of hunger there?”
Baba: “Can you name the capital of Ethiopia?”
Relative: (with sweat-beads shining on his forehead) “Umm, No.”
My Baba gave a sardonic laughter and asked me the same question and I, a 4 year old kid replied in my baby voice, “Addis Ababa!”
Baba took out a book on Ethiopia from the shelf and gave it to that man. That book never came back to the shelf, because that man never visited our house ever again!
When I was in class 7th,my mother came to know that I had a crush on one of my seniors. She was concerned and asked my Baba to talk to me. And voila! The very next day I had 6 novels spread on my desk. 3 out of which were romantic fictions! When I went to thank him, he gave me a 10 minute lecture on the difference between infatuation and love. And then he told me, “Fall in love with books, not with people.”
He took me into the beautiful la la land of book-romancing! He told me that every book has a different smell, a different feel about it. An aura of it’s own. It binds you, it mesmerizes you, it makes you fall in love with it over and over again! He taught me not to just read the books but feel them.
Having two bibliophiles in one house can be a tricky affair. We used to get into these friendly tussles over who would read the newly arrived book first! He always won.
Just before his last sleep, he told my grandmother, “Don’t let Paree read the book that is going to arrive tomorrow before me.” He couldn’t read that book. I didn’t read it either. He always had to win.
The last thing that I remember about him is his grumpy face, as he lay on a bed covered with books, in a room with the floor littered with newspapers.