Memories of the treasure chest

It was my father’s treasure chest, a large, rectangular wooden box with creaking hinges and crumbling wood, occupying a sanctified corner of the drawing room. The box had many books stacked, stored carefully by my father. He was an avid reader. Those books with splitting spines and musty pages collected over the years through his youth remained a treasure that he turned to after the day’s numbing work in his office. Often the books would be found on his bed, bedside table or on the floor, which my mother would re-arrange religiously the next day.

As I grew up, I too dug into the treasure trove at various intervals. They were a motley conglomeration, heavily underscored, much thumbed, and had marginal scribbles, cross-references and dates. In fact, every book bore the stamp of an assiduous reader who did his homework. It was here that I first encountered Jeeves of P G Wodehouse’s Thank you Jeeves, the British gentleman valet with a stiff upper lip who tickled the funny bones of generations of readers.

There were books by Nehru — his Glimpses of World History and his autobiography, written while in prison, and the book I loved the most, Letters from a father to his Daughter on natural and human history, the evolution of man through the ages.

Hidden among them was an unlikely book Nectar in a Sieve, by Kamala Markendeya, one of the early Indian writers in English, which became a best-seller. Tagore made an appearance with Gitanjali, Chitrangada and Post Office. My father never got tired of talking about Tagore's mellifluous poetry, and of course, the ubiquitous volumes of Shakespeare.

The first poems I read were from an anthology with a tattered cover. My father’s favourite poem was Elegy on a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray. The lines he quoted often from the poem, ‘Full many a gem of purest ray serene/ the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear...' talk of so many of us in the sidelines, the unsung heroes who don't get into the limelight in life.

The wooden chest was my first brush with literature. The pleasures of reading threw open many vistas and helped me inhabit and appreciate other worlds besides my own.

With time, I lost track of the box and its contents, but I still feel the joy my father felt whenever he would read. Books were his soulmates. For me, the magic of the wooden box, like Aladdin's lamp, endures.

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