Musty books, worn out covers, brown pages that act as remnants of reading and rereading, a blot of ink here, a careless scribble there: the cast of characters at a second-hand bookstore. The dust in the air is overwhelming and I sneeze. Covering my nose with a handkerchief, I prowl around looking for the books I want to take home. It's a lot like a treasure hunt, except, the clues are hazier and there really is no surety of what I would find.
The best discoveries are truly accidental and so it was when I picked Ketaki Kushari Dyson's translation of Rabindranath Tagore's poems: I Won't Let You Go. An unflattering yellow cover with bright red text; not at all the dainty poetry collection you'd like to display on your shelf. I was hardly a lover of poetry then: I was either confused by it or found it pretentious or was just too thick to understand some celebrated poets. But I knew I had to read Tagore, at least to understand why he was revered as a national treasure.
Discovering Tagore is one of the best things that have ever happened to my life. And that memory of haphazard rows of books, dusty and waiting to fall at the slightest inadvertent nudge, has always stayed with me.
That day began very early. I joined the crowd as people waited for their turn to get into the book shop. Faces: smiling as they stifled the early morning yawn, excited and unafraid of jumping to show it, jokes flying in the air, people who previously had no idea of each other's existence exchanging grins as they marched in to get their copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Killjoys who came out with the book, proceeded to open the last page and read from it, immediately leading to angry swear words from the crowd, people shutting their ears to avoid hearing if Harry died or if Ron and Hermione finally got together.
That was the end of a literary experience like no other. Quite remarkable that waiting in a queue is one of the most wonderful bookish memories I have.
And then of course comes what is probably the most annoying habit a booklover is guilty of: Remembering people by the books they read and the books they recommend. The teacher who gifted me The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes because she knew I'd love it. The friend who let me read Heidi first and waited till I'm done with the book after which she could get it from the school library. The librarian who gave me a phonecall to let me know that the book I had been waiting for a long time - Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger - was finally available. Bloggers who helped me discover some of my all-time favourite books: The Group, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Agatha Christie book, Death in the Clouds, that my Aunt borrowed from me to help her from being bored, immediately after giving birth. Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel, gifted by my best friends on my birthday.
Remembering the prodigious collection of books at Grandpa's house and feeling a little envious. Picking the right book for Mum when she says she needs a feel-good read. Never forgetting all the books Dad recommends when I tell him about a topic, with so much variety and relevance as though he's an automated Goodreads archive. That sinking feeling when I dislike a book he recommended or find it too complicated.
Demanding a friend who is moving to another city to sign the book she is giving me as a farewell gift. Finding Mahatma Gandhi's My Experiments with Truth in Mum's bookshelf and pocketing it for myself to read. Convincing Mum that even though it looks worn out and jaded, Integration of the Indian States by VP Menon is a remarkable treasure of a book that is worth buying. Buying books that I've always wanted to, like Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi and Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, thanks to a book voucher gift from my parents.
That friend who is a Snape fan. The friend who always argues that Charlotte Bronte is better than Jane Austen. The friend who told me with remarkable honesty that she couldn't finish Emma and found it quite boring. The friend who would not let me walk past unless I guessed 'Caput Draconis' or 'Pinefresh'.
Indeed, almost every book one reads or buys has perhaps an inconsequential or precious story attached to it; remarkable memories for a booklover. Reminisce about your bookish memories and share them!