A book angel

The compassionate gesture from a stranger, helped me preserve the spark forever.

Most ardent book lovers can boast of a book angel from their childhood. I like to think of a book angel as someone instrumental in introducing one to the world of books or carried such passion for books that you could feel the aura of that world while they spoke about it and you desperately longed to be a part of that special world. It could be a friend, a neighbour or even a stranger travelling with you in the train. 

For me, it was the teacher, who spun a lyrical tale with her words that it was hard not to be mesmerised; the one who made me fall in love with the O Henry twist; the one who influenced me to browse the newspaper, hunting for tongue-twisting words. 

It was also that uncle, whose house was stacked with a library, when even buying school books was considered a luxury at home. As I spent an entire summer vacation in his home immersed in books, I discovered bits of the world that I had little exposure to. I realised that I could visit places far away and experience things that were unthinkable, just sitting in my living room. It seemed nothing short of a miracle.

One incident still remains etched in my mind. I was ten years old and had just moved to a new school and city. 

Prior to this, we lived in a non-descript town, where school meant a few rooms partitioned under thatched roofs. The contrasting experience was enthralling – the huge auditorium, the quality of the teaching staff, students conversing in English – but what captivated me most was the vast library. 

Inside the library premises, the school authorities had once organised an exhibition for the students to purchase books at a discount price. As I walked along the aisles of the room, whiffing the unique odor emanating from the stationery, I was stumped at the humongous collection in one room. That evening, after hours of coaxing my mother, I managed to extract Rs 10 to buy a comic book. But the next day, when I went back to the exhibition, I was smitten by an anagram book. The hard-to-crack word puzzles were giving me a dizzy thrill but when I enquired with the manager, I was disappointed to learn that it cost Rs 50. 

I was caught in a quagmire and continued returning for the next three days, lingering around, unable to decide. On the final day, the manager just walked over with the book in his hand and handed it over to me. “You can take this,” he said. “No sir, I don’t have enough money,” I hesitated. “That’s okay,” he assured with a smile, “as long as you promise to keep this passion alive”. I would like to believe that the compassionate gesture from a stranger did not just make my day, but also helped me preserve the spark forever.

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