The world of words

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The world of words

I like libraries. They are nice places. There’s something fuzzy, warm and comforting about them. And if one happens to be in a library that has a small sofa or two and a librarian who is not always chatting on the phone, one would feel truly blessed.

By P G Bhaskar

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Published: Fri 25 Jan 2013, 2:23 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 4:29 AM

What is it about libraries? Is it the peace and quiet? The presence of like-minded book lovers? The smell, touch and feel of the books? Or to strike a slightly more psychic note, do all the wonderful thoughts of those great minds over the centuries manifest themselves through their books in some mystical, magical way?

I was at my library the other day and was pleasantly surprised to find my second book there, nestling snugly next to that of Chetan Bhagat — the only Indian author who has sold over a million copies. It’s nice to find your own book in a library especially next to that of a chap who is a household name, even if the only reason for it, is that the first three letters of your name match his.

Curious to find out when the library had acquired my book and even more so to find out how many people had borrowed the book since, I picked it up. A quick glance at the rectangular slip of paper affixed to the first page informed me that the book had been on loan five times in the last two months. With a gratified nod, I was just about to put the book back in its slot when an elderly British gentleman who was standing nearby cleared his throat preparatory to making conversation. I looked at him inquiringly.

“Uhm ..” he began with a half-smile and waved his hand in the direction of the book I was holding. “I just put back the book there, I had borrowed it last week,” he informed me and proceeded to provide me with an unsolicited review of my book.

“While reading the first couple of chapters,” he told me, “I was trying to get a fix on the story, as it were. You know, what exactly was happening and how it was going to unfold. But then I decided to forget about the story and simply enjoy reading it. That’s how to do this book. Don’t look for a story, don’t search for a plot, just go with the flow. I liked it. And since you are an Indian, you’ll like it even more.”

I nodded sheepishly and a little dumbly. I tried to think of something to say but couldn’t. For one thing, I wasn’t sure if the man was paying me a compliment. He said he had liked the book. But on the other hand, he said it didn’t have much of a story! How dare he?! That couldn’t be a good thing surely, in a book? I wondered if I should let him know that I had written the book. But on second thoughts, I decided against it. It might lead to a situation fraught with embarrassment, perhaps for both of us. Even if he could handle it, I wasn’t sure if I could. I decided to say nothing.

There was an uncomfortable pause. He was waiting for me to respond in some way and I was waiting for him to leave so I could put the book back. But he kind of remained there, looking at me expectantly. For a few moments, I pretended to go through the book. If I ignored his comment and replaced the book on the shelf, it might have seemed rude. And I couldn’t very well tell him I had already read it. The moment for that had already passed. Besides, why would I have picked it up then? It was an impasse.

I had already chosen the books I wanted. There didn’t seem to be anything else to do. I took the book and walked towards the counter, looking at the man through the corner of my eye. The lady at the desk stamped the books. With a quick nod of gratitude towards her and a slightly embarrassed half-wave to my benefactor, I was off and away, walking towards my car.

As I drove back home, I looked at the small pile of books on the passenger seat. There were four altogether; my own book lying on top of the heap. I felt extremely silly. In the entire history of the written word, I must be the first idiot to have borrowed his own book from his library.

P G Bhaskar is the author of ‘Corporate Carnival’ (Harper Collins) and ‘Jack Patel’s Dubai Dreams’ (Penguin, India)

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