Growing up, I was a voracious reader.
The books of my childhood were full of Canadian classics by L M Montgomery with her iconic curly topped imaginative “Anne of Green Gables” and early feminist and abolitionist American author Louisa May Alcott known for her book “Little Women” plus many other authors.
This hunger to discover worlds beyond my own through other’s words remains… with the exception of a few years in my early 40s when time to do anything other than ‘living’ took over. It doesn’t mean I stopped reading, however the quantity and range radically reduced.
With a slightly slower pace this year, my love of literature has resurfaced.
Conveniently, new books keep landing at our doorstep courtesy of friends and their coteries publishing their creative works.
In literary circles, my partner is known for lending his rich baritone to readings at book launches. Which means many books in our bookshelves are gifts, signed by their authors.
Amusingly, when we combined our book collection 3.5 years ago, we found some in common. Thankfully, many were distinct, so we have little need to visit a ‘library’ to locate something interesting to read… instead we have only to wander over to our living room and pluck something off the shelf.
And yet these books are a mere fraction of what I’ve accumulated over the years. My early academic phase alone spawned more than our entire current collection.
One of the challenges during our recent trip to Winnipeg was to unearth boxes stored with my parents to say a fond farewell to beloved books that will never make the journey across the oceans from Canada to India.
To put into perspective, when I moved back to India in 2003, there was a ‘question mark’ whether life back in India would work or I would return to resume life in Canada. I left Canada with some 70+ boxes carefully labeled and stored with family. Over the years, the quantity has gradually been culled.
This trip we pulled out the final set from the crawl space with a challenge to sort into four categories:
Go for those I could (sob!) ‘let go’ to either donate, find new homes or (deep sigh) recycle
- Keep knowing the moment my parents decide to downsize from their house, these too will go
- Ship if… for those precious books I will send to India at likely a silly cost rather than part ways forever… irrespective of whether we have space in our current location!
- Bring for the extremely limited 2-3 books to join our luggage for the return trip to Mumbai
Looking at the label of the 1st box – Indian fiction – I thought there should be many I could add to the ‘go’ pile. To discover the top book was a collection of short stories edited by someone unknown when purchased and now close enough to be my Delhi host on my last trip! Arghh!!
Book after book that meant one thing when originally acquired morphed into new relationships as interesting authors whose works I enjoyed from a distance now pop home during trips through Mumbai. Or works which opened new paths to wander, now represent familiar haunts part of my everyday reality.
How to say farewell to these now comfortable old friends?
And it wasn’t just books! How to put into recycling a decade of research, copies of court cases never before and likely never again to be compiled in the same meticulous way as an earnest graduate student?
Yet how to justify keeping when the likelihood of returning to Canada or ever having space for all these paper companions seems impossible?
Yes I may still harbour a dream of owning a home with its own library – a cosy room with wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling books, a grand piano, plush leather sofas and comfy corners to curl up and read. It is a lovely fantasy. One that even my partner shares. However we have indulged our desire by building bookshelves in our wee flat in Bandra.
Which meant, I had to bid adieu to most of the memories encased in the trappings of paper. I may not have said ‘farewell’ to all… however this trip left a more manageable number.
I’m no stranger to letting go. Anyone who moves knows that you always leave something behind. As my homes get successively smaller with each move, hard choices are made. Even the move to our Bandra flat came with eliminating 4 large boxes of books.
Anyone else still have boxes scattered around the globe of ‘stuff’ you secretly hope to ‘re-unite’ with one day… knowing full well such an event is unlikely?
Am I alone in having a slightly irrational emotional connect to physical books, memories of when first read and a desire to keep them around?