I have memories of a sunshiny, airy house in Hyderabad, whose walls were kissed by the swaying branches of trees on soft summer afternoons. This house was populated by kindly spirits and filled with a quiet salubrious energy. I particularly remember a room lined with large bookcases- they might have appeared mammoth and daunting to a seven- or eight-year-old who was just learning to enjoy abridged illustrated classics, these bunches of different spines- but I also found it very welcoming and awe-inspiring.
More than fifteen years have gone by and much has changed. Two of the people whose kindness I remember from when I was a young girl have passed on. Aunty’s shrikhand has sadly disappeared from memory. Uncle has left behind something more enduring- plenty of stories. I was enthralled when I came to know that this Uncle I knew was a celebrity in his own way; his stories won competitions for adults in Tinkle and were published in CBT books (an important part of my childhood reading), and how delighted I would be to see them in print! I stopped buying Tinkle a few years ago, but when I bought a copy on a whim, I’d be doubly thrilled to see one of Uncle’s stories in it. And I came to know yesterday that there wouldn’t be any more of them. I see a blank spot on the shelf.
His daughter is trimming her collection of books. I ask her how she can summon up enough strength to sell away well-loved books. She tells me with a laugh that she has reconciled herself to it; these are books that she has read twice or thrice every year, over many years. She is circulating the list of books she is giving away among a close circle of friends, people who she knows will care for them as she has. I’ve asked for some of them- Ishiguro, Dick Francis, JRR Tolkien, Sheridan Le Fanu. I don’t know if I’ll ever have enough courage to give up my own books. I gave away a copy of Kafka on the Shore a couple of months ago, and I still regret it at times, even though I know the recipient well and am sure that he will look after it properly.
Sometimes, though, keeping your bookshelves stocked isn’t the most important thing in life.