Through a bookworm's eyes

My son offered to get me an e-book reader. But the tectonic shift is too drastic to handle.

Every time we have moved houses, a large quantity of books have moved with us. It has been a challenge to find a place for them in many of our new homes. But like the good companions they are known to be, they have adjusted admirably to the space available or the lack of it. They have perched themselves comfortably be it in balconies, lofts or verandahs. Sometimes, they have been cramped into shelves like passengers on a Mumbai local,while on other occasions they have lorded it over large spaces.

I have often resolved not to buy more  books. But the scent of paper and fresh print and the promise of hours of communion is difficult to resist. The pride of possession of good books is motive enough to acquire them. All the reading will definitely happen on retirement.

My son offered to get me an e-book reader which would be the ultimate solution to the problems of storage and shifting. I could, in fact, lug an entire library comfortably wherever I go. But the tectonic shift a tablet would bring seems too drastic to handle. It would consign an whole way of life to extinction. Books are ultimately not just about books.

The yearly book fair was a big treat for us as children. The lending library, tucked away in an inconspicuous street corner, was a favourite haunt on vacati-ons. Borrowing books was meant to be an occasion to chat, discuss and argue.

I remember old-time bookshops where browsers were shooed away. But the second-hand book shops exuded a warmth and opened up another world. In the well-thumbed, dog-eared pages of old books, were hidden several stories. Underlined phrases, pencilled references on the margins and even a dried flower preserved between pages offered tantalising glimpses of other people who loved and lived in their books.

There were the much treasured bookmarks of sandalwood shavings and feathers. Hunting for the perfect bookshelf, reading lamps and lamp shades were all part of the effort to create a world where words would come alive from between the pages of a book.

If screens were to substitute paper and all these familiar accessories vanish, it would result in a drab downsizing. Burrowing into the pages of a book and cradling a book while falling asleep are experiences that reading on a gadget may not offer. I wonder whether some centuries ago there was a similar lament when manuscripts were shown the door.

The versatility of the book of paper and print origin is matchless. Once, while visiting a small village in the Himalayas, I found many copies of a book written by a learned author, carelessly abandoned in an open room. The school children who passed by would occasionally tear off a few pages for what they obviously, thought were better uses.

A venerable and wise teacher who lived there assured me that all was not lost. His eyes twinkled as he said, “Sometimes cows wander in to eat a page or two. So, at least, the cows around are enlightened!”

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