At Home with Books
WTFOW #5, Day 2
It was quite by chance, and the will of a bicycle tyre puncture that I discovered the library in my neighborhood when I was in 8th grade. It was walking distance from my new home, but having not ventured to that side before then, I hadn’t noticed it. My school library had a restriction of one book per week, though I could sweet talk the librarian into getting two. More importantly, our school library didn’t have a copy of The Goblet of Fire for some reason. When I saw that this library did, I asked my mom for the registration fee, and thus began a bookish journey that continues to this day.
The circulating library had all kinds of books – magazines, comics, children’s books, Mills and Boons, crime fiction. The borrowing fee for each book was 10% of the book’s price, and a member could keep the book for a week, after which they’d have to pay Rs. 2 per day fine. Soon as I was done registering, I took the Goblet of Fire and began to read that. The librarian there, Mr. Ravi, thought that I’d not finish in a week, but he didn’t quite know my appetite for reading just then. He found out soon enough, when I finished the book in two and a half days, and returned it with elation. He laughed, and said no one had previously read cover to cover that quickly, and instead of charging me Rs. 60 for the week, he charged me just Rs. 30.
In 30 days of summer vacation, I’d have read a hundred books at least. I remember those days so well. I’d take 5 Archies Double Digests, or Agatha Christie books or Erle Stanley Gardner books, and finish them quickly. There was nothing quite as satisfying as sitting back in my favorite couch, a glass of cold lemonade in one hand and a book open on my lap as I whiled the time away. Every alternate day, I’d be back at the library looking for more books to read. The librarian asked me suggestions, and slowly, the library had the entire Perry Mason series. I’d be the first to read each one, before they’d wrap it in a polythene cover and put the library stamp. I bought my first book from the library too, a crime fiction titled A Taste for Death by PD James, and it was a book that stayed on my shelf for over a decade before being gifted to a good bookworm friend.
Over the years, the library has helped rekindle my love for reading when it has felt down. The love for reading had stayed on, but it had been a while that I’d gone there or borrowed a book. When I had dropped in recently just to say hello to the librarian, it had felt like a lot had changed. The number of patrons had gone down. There weren’t as many books as before. They hadn’t procured new releases. It was with a touch of sadness that the librarian said that not many old patrons were coming to borrow books. The circulating library was a small one. They couldn’t procure the books the readers were demanding nowadays. They had to look for profitability too, and for that, they needed the books that more than just the “demander” was going to read.
Yet, for me, some things had stayed the same. The fragrance of old books wafting in as I entered. There were many books I had enjoyed and re-read during school and college days. The smile of the librarian felt as warm as it ever was. I could remember the hours I spent looking at the blurbs of books before borrowing some. And I could imagine myself telling “It does feel like home, doesn’t it?” again. Hoping that the library continues to flourish, and that the younger readers read and feel the magic of the books I had read back in my childhood days. The magic they hold is, after all, timeless.
(© Vinay Leo R. @ I Rhyme Without Reason, 11th July 2016)