There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Charm of Battered Books

By Aloke Kumar
Kolkata, India

Broken-backed and dog-eared, the more decrepit these volumes are the more I love them. How about you?
Some days back my friend Sundar (Dhritiman Chaterji ) posted an article from The Guardian or was it the Times London about the charm of battered books and the author stated that he loves them and asked 'How about you ?' .... I wanted to scream to him ...." Me too!! Me too!! "
You see, I inherited my father's antiquarian library and some of the books are battered. In spite of my best intentions, I have not been able to get them repaired as the old Muslim binders are either deceased or have returned to, what we call Bangladesh.
But that aside, I love battered books. Even if you give me the opportunity to exchange them for new books I will not. I absolutely adore these books.

Even those battered, tattered paperbacks . They have no manners. They always give away at odd places. Loose. Vagabond. More like Jack Kerouac on the road. But I love them . Even if you give a new paperback instead, I will decline. I have, you see, already got a copy. You might think that, given the rather sad state of it, being torn and tattered, I would jump at the chance of a clean, fresh, free copy. But that never occurred to me. My old 1960s paperback might be battered, bruised and beaten, but it is truly beloved.

I'm not sure how long I've had those paperbacks . Thirty years at least; probably twenty. Maybe more. I've read it perhaps half a dozen times. And each time I take it from the shelf, another sheaf of pages has come loose. The glue in the binding has deteriorated some more. The spine is scuffed and ripped, the cover is fading by degrees. But I could no more consider getting rid of it than I could get rid of my pet dying of old age.
The book doesn't have any particular emotional ties – it wasn't given to me by a loved one, nor found in any special place. I didn't read it for the first time one unforgettable night. But – for reasons that seem unclear and perhaps a bit odd now I come to examine them – I just wouldn't get rid of it, or replace it with a new copy.

Perhaps it's because my books have travelled with me all my life, their numbers swelling, becoming a much more unwieldy herd whenever I've had to move house. They've been lent out, brought back; their spines have been cracked and their pages spread-eagled on tables and floors; they've been rubbed with remains of food as we carry them to our dining tables and their corners turned down.
Perhaps it's because they mutely accept such abuse with the faithful, unconditional stoicism that I don't part with them. They've toiled hard for me, in difficult circumstances. Many a night lending company, helping me to draft a note or even help prepare a project for my son. When my son Rahul wanted a poem to read out in the next day’s class I took out the Poems of Yesteryears and realized that the book is much older to him. In fact most of the books are. It is because of this, like some benevolent squire of old I feel it's my duty to provide a comfortable place for them in their twilight years.
I have different relations with my antique books and paperbacks. For the antique books I treat them with kid gloves. I take the book from the shelf, avoiding too much dragging. I place the book gently on its spine and on a flat surface. Using a hand on each side, allow the book to open somewhere near the middle. I turn to the place I want by turning sections of the book over. I never press down on the pages near the joint or force the boards back beyond the flat position.

Whereas for the paperbacks,the rules are different. They shouldn't be wilfully mistreated, but we shouldn't handle them with kid gloves. If they pick up imperfections and blemishes, so what? A less than pristine book is a book with character. As we might, in time, come to look at our books as our friends, come to share with us the scars and scratches of life.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this post. It made me nostalgic about my similar collections which I have at my home-town. The collection includes my History books, Julius Caesar, merchant of Venice from my Ma’s college days, not to forget the wise English-to-Bengali dictionary, with yellow brittle pages.

    These are treasures which nothing can replace...