I was born into a family of book-collectors..Starting with my great-grandfather, who left behind him a house bursting at the seams with books.. to my father, who gets a discount in practically every bookstore in bangalore and from all the pavement vendors on MG road, coz he simply laps up books.. it came as no surprise that my sister and I were soon cramming our house with books too.
However, my personal collection is now a mere shadow of its former self..thanks to my propensity to lend books, and the propensity of certain people to not return them. I have tried to compensate for the books people stole from me, by forgetting to return others’ books myself..but what I have lost far exceeds what I’ve managed to pinch.
There are different kinds of book-pinchers..from the evil bibliomaniac, who will not return your book ever..to the relatively harmless amateur who is trying to get acquainted with books, as it is a ‘good habit’. The former will place your book in the appropriate shelf in his catalogued and categorized library and gleefully rub his hands..while the latter simply keeps putting off returning the book, as he has been putting off reading the book. And then there are the smart ones who return books only when prodded.. I have known them all, and they have all taken books from me.
Any book lover would vouch for the fact that it hurts a lot when a treasured book is suddenly not there. Maybe it was the book that you made a great bargain on, or the book you at last found after scanning the shelves of a dozen bookstores, or the book that got you started on a whole new genre, or simply a book that you spent a lot of money on..
Many years back, I had been reading parallely P.G Wodehouse’s Blandings omnibus, that had cost around 300 bucks, a very respectable sum then, and a Little women sequel in hard binding, that I had chanced upon in rare luck. I left the two books lying on the couch, and went on a then-regular Chennai summer visit. My neighbors were given the keys, so that they could drop in to water the potted plants. When I came back, the books were gone!
One book was returned to me by my neighbor some months later..apparently, his niece had come in to water the plants, and she liked the book and took away with it. He did not mention the second book, but I just know that there is a niece without a conscience somewhere, with a copy of Blandings Castle that does not rightfully belong to her.
Somebody famous or semi-famous once said ‘ he who lends a book is an idiot, and he who returns it is more of an idiot’. Much as I’d like to think that I’ve just been generous to a fault in lending books, my woefully incomplete collection makes me wish I’d held on to my books..