I love the smell of old books, the tattered spines, the frayed yellow pages, and the unspoken memories that are caught within the fading words.
I love the inscriptions within these books, names, dates, sometimes dedications, and imagining what they meant to someone at some point. It is so beautiful to connect with people who have read and hopefully loved this book before, irrespective of age, culture, and maybe country and race.
My love for second hand books started very young. We didn’t buy many books in our family, and I used to sit in the school library, when it was opened once a week for an hour to rummage through that cupboard of beautiful leather-bound books, filled with hopes, aspirations and dreams of the future. These books were a secret pathway for me to the worlds that I hadn’t visited and the lives that I was yet to inhabit.
I waited for the library hour as we had it scheduled in our timetable, anxiously outside the door, for Miss Verma to come and open the library door and hush us all inside. I would head straight to this one with the old books, touching them slowly, and gently, and feeling the weight of wisdom in these heavy tomes underneath my fingers. We didn’t have many bookshops where we lived, and none that sold old books like these.
Then my grandfather passed away. I hadn’t known him too well, living away from them for all my life. The rest of the family scrabbled over who inherited what while my parent stood away collecting his books that no one else wanted. My father came back home laden with sadness and these books that smelt of moths, and his father.
I loved these books, I treasured them. They were my very first introduction to George Bernard Shaw and to Shakespeare. I was only 12, and I felt so grown up. They seemed to be a connection to my grandfather, whom I never knew very well and was never close to. It felt familiar and strange at the same time, as if I was intruding on his life, but also a secret window in his world. He had signed his name with a fountain pen in front of many of these, and I ran my finger over his lovely handwriting, trying to imagine him sitting at his desk. I didn’t know anyone else in India of his age, or mine, who had read these books or even collected them. It felt special, and I silently vowed to him to continue his legacy, his love of books, and of literature. 'I read, therefore I am'.
Since then, I cannot resist a second hand bookshop. I can spend hours just wandering aimlessly through them, finding books that I ought to read one day, or those that I never knew existed. My heart is always racing and my eyes brighter than ever. It is that feeling of anticipation, of not knowing what one might find. The bookshelves at home become heavier and heavier, and my heart just a little bit lighter with each of these books that I buy. I feel like I am collecting memories for my children; carving that window into my life through which my yet-to-be-born grandchildren might peep through one day, and find me sitting at my desk.