“We are going to give you something special!” coo-ed the nieces as soon as I landed in India.
“What is it? I don’t really want anything, just time to spend with you lovely girls.” said I, ever the Aunt imparting Valuable Life Lessons.
They smiled it away without batting an eyelid. Life Lessons – pish tosh bigosh! If, as a child, you don’t know how to ignore that stuff, you’ve learnt nothing in life was the philosophical angle the children seemed to take and I appreciated them for it.
“Yes, yes we know. But you will really like what we have planned for you!” they said in unison. “It is an Experience!”
The children obviously knew where to get me, loop me with my own tune – Experiences are worth more than Possessions.
I grinned expecting a trip to the ice-cream store across the street. That was an experience for sure. There were flavors there that made me swoon. Could I have the coconut -lemon and the orange-watermelon and mango and jackfruit flavored ones?
Come evening, we all headed out. The nieces ,with touching sincerity, told me that they would forfeit their quota in my honor, given how much I would like where we are going. All highly puzzling so far.
When we finally made our way through the Gulmohar lined streets, the skies looking beautiful and benign over the towering apartment buildings, I stopped and watched the excitement build in their faces, as we turned the corner. Beaming at me in a small two-roomed store front tucked away near eateries and grocery stores, was a tiny library. I gave them a slow, wide smile. This was amazing. Off we went inside. I was grateful that the children had access to this small lending library. (Yes – we stopped for ice-cream afterwards.)
The lack of easy access to public libraries in India has always been a sore point with me. As long as we are in school and college, we have access to libraries in some form or another – the institutions themselves have them. Even if the Engineering college library lacked sorely in the Literature section, one could read IEEE journals to pass the time. I am immensely grateful to the librarians in my schooldays. During our school holidays, the librarian in my mother’s school, Mr Gandhi, would happily supply me with books enough to whet my appetite (Life’s blessings come in many forms – my mother’s school vacations did not coincide with ours, so their library was still open). Years later, when I came home with a broken leg to recuperate, Mr Gandhi, sent books that he thought I would like. That kind of care from anybody is touching. It is no wonder that one of my earliest career aspirations was to be a teacher and a librarian.
When first I moved to the big city, I felt unmoored without a library to frequent. I dedicated a Saturday morning every month for the trip across the city to the used books market, and pile up on books to read, making my way back with a teetering pile of books (I had no idea about the concept of copyright, how payments were made to authors etc). Most were in bad condition, not great authors or titles, but I took what I could. It was my only indulgence.
I read somewhere that people don’t really feel the need for Art if it was never a part of their life. But once exposed to the beauty and depth of any Art, if taken away, the void is there. An emptiness that you didn’t know existed. That resonated with me, for I feel the same way about libraries and access to good books.
I mourned the day the physical books stores went out of business in the United States. In every mall, every shopping street, I kept my eyes open for a place to dip into. There were none.
We bought clothing and fabrics simply because we were there and the clothes lured me through the shop windows.
We drank coffee because the coffee store was there.
We ate ice-cream b – well you get the gist.
But we didn’t read books with differing viewpoints and thoughts that could rejuvenate the brain because they weren’t there.
I chatted with the nieces once we were back here, and I asked them what they had checked out that week from their little sweet library. “Oh…they closed it now in the afternoons because they are using the space for English and Math tuitions.” they said, and I couldn’t help whimpering.
When we place so much importance on clothing that we change out everyday, shouldn’t we place more on thoughts that flit in and out even more constantly?
A quote from one of my favorite books, Fahrenheit 451, By Ray Bradbury:
There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.
I wish we all get to the chance to experience Ray’s Bradbury’s nugget of wisdom:
“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
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