It has been a while since I have

14 Jun

It has been a while since I have flipped through pages so old that I breathe in their vanilla mustiness from several inches above. The library copy of Sukanta Chaudhuri’s now out of print two-volume story of Calcutta (OUP) is probably 23 years old. The binding is coming apart, and the thick pages are already yellowing. Twenty Three in Calcutta’s humid weather is probably an older twenty three than, say, in Delhi.

The smell brings back memories of early childhood reading. The book magic happened to me at the age of five, with Enid Blyton’s Bimbo and Topsy, followed by Secret Seven Have an Adventure. Before that, I remember not caring much for bed time stories. My parents would read to me and I would interrupt every few sentences with annoying (I’m sure!) but-why questions. The but-why habit pursued me through life and I’ve held up quite a few science classes in high school trying to understand the correlation between formula and manifestation. In Class XI, physics, I annoyed the hell out of my teacher and at least one classmate wanting to know why the physical structure of surface tension (the scientific explanation of which, as explained, I understood) produced that curved shape. She couldn’t explain enough, and I couldn’t understand enough (I gave her a thank-you card at the end of the year for bearing with my questions). It is only relatively recently, in the past two years or so, that I have learnt to deal with my pressing but-whys: put them aside, meditate, and eventually you get the answer. If you don’t, well, you will some day. If you still don’t, you don’t need the answer right now.

Look at me, getting all off-track! So yes, books. While I had read the Noddy books and fairy tales before that, it was only when 5 year old me got a-hold of Bimbo and Topsy (birthday presents! The best way to build book collections in middle class homes, pre-liberalisation) that I really started to read. I was hooked; I read everywhere, and every waking non-school moment (faked sick a few times to read) and not having too many books of my own, I would re-read the ones I had, endlessly. Some time before I turned ten, I acquired several old books: my father’s childhood collection from my grandparents house across the country and my grandmother’s collections from her childhood. My mother read Bengali, so not much loot was to be had from that end (I can read Bangla, but it’s a slow, painful process involving the sticking out of my tongue and much concentration). These books included Just William (still cannot get enough of William!), Treasure Island, Coral Island etc etc and a complete set of silver-fish infested Sherlock Holmes. This was my real love (and Sherlock Holmes, my first crush). The pages were so brittle that the slightest pressure in the wrong direction would lead to a part of it breaking off. The typeface was old and proper and there were these little holes-created no doubt by creatures that feast on cellulose-dotting every page. And oh, the smell! Such a comforting smell.

I’m glad to relive this at the fag-end of my dissertation, reading a book about a city I’ve grown to love.


3 Responses to “It has been a while since I have”

  1. countingducks June 15, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Right I read your post with my normal interest, because I love the way you ruminate over things and then I came across ‘ Just William’ and everything went a bit crazy. He is my boyhood hero. He is the boy I was and the much of the man I became, including the dress sense but without the cap

    • astudentinkolkata June 16, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

      Really? 😀 That is so awesome! I wanted to BE William. Sadly, I was more the calm and placid, no formic acid kind of a humanling. Pure gold, the way she wrote them!


  1. Bookshelves, Bowie and Alan Rickman | In Calcutta, a student. - January 18, 2016

    […] that I now have multiple unread books within my reach. When I was a child, such a thing could never have occurred. I consumed everything, age-appropriate or not. Adulthood, even graduate student […]

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