Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Bee

I am a ‘Book Bee'.

Have I caught you nodding wisely but, after a couple of those wise nods, pausing suddenly and looking perplexed - and looking around furtively to check whether anyone has noticed your discomfiture?

Don’t worry. You aren’t the only one to nod vigorously and looking wise in the face of something that one has not quite understood. You are actually better than the lot.

Think of the zillions of people who look at a work of modern art (and even some not so modern art) in an art gallery looking very thoughtful, engrossed, appreciative, and letting out a faint whistle or two followed by a ‘Wowwww!’ under their breath as they peer at a painting which, in their honest opinion, doesn’t actually look anything more than a pail of paint spilled all over the place.

Think of those thousands of people who go to a classical music concert, look all so immersed in music, clap occasionally and applaud thunderously with a beatific smile plastered all over their faces though they know nothing about Raga, Tala etc and can't actually care less about the stuff.

Or those millions of users on FB who click on 'Like' against something though they hardly know what it is all about or why they 'like' it. In fact the less they understand something or the less there is a reason to like something, the more they seem likely to say that they like it. Prompted by a need to pass off as wise and learned, perhaps.

You are not alone in it and never shall be. If they don't look around self-consciously, you have far less reason to. As I have said, you are better than that lot. You have been genuinely confused - having been caught unawares by a not so clever play with words.

I don’t claim ‘Book Bee’ is quite in the Ivy League of a work of art or a music concert. Yet, for an analogy, I had to say something – something I do not quite understand myself, I guess!

Well, ‘Book Bee’ sounds familiar but there is an odd ring to it, right? Not surprisingly.

(I have this knack of getting back to where I had started – no matter how much I digress. You have to concede that!)

You have heard of bookworms. And you have heard of honey bees too. But book bees?!! Now you know why you have that feeling of uneasiness coupled with familiarity.

Just like honey bees which collect honey painstakingly, I have been collecting my books painstakingly. But that is just about where I want the similarity to end.

Honeybees are smoked out of their beehives by cunning mortals who are after the honey. (I wonder whether the roots of Communism lay in the exploited world of honeybees!) Crooked, selfish, exploitative chaps these cunning mortals are; I agree with the honeybees.

I refuse to be relieved of my books - my most precious possessions. I am a tougher nut to crack or a tougher bee to ward off. I have no intention to let my painstaking collection pass into greedy but indolent hands - hands that receive generously but give parsimoniously.

“Vanitaa, vittam, pustakam parahastam gatam gatah”, so goes the saying. Once a woman, money, or a book passes into the hands of another, it is gone for good.

I haven’t had a first hand experience – touch wood, I‘d hasten to say – with the first two in the list; but I have had a faint brush with the third because my brother – a tad younger than me but a lot less circumspect than me - took it upon himself long long ago to give away a few of my precious books to a convincing cousin – ‘A Bridge Too Far’ by Cornelius Ryan, ‘French Revolution’ by Thomas Carlyle, and a few rare text books of Physics and Mathematics. Fortunately, I woke up before the damage could spread and took preventive measures (which I shall speak about later).

There is this problem about books. If you do not lend them, you are considered to be mean and thoroughly unsociable. If you lend them, they never come back – and if they do come back, they do in such a thoroughly disgusting and deplorable condition that you feel like throwing them out or gifting them back to the person returning them. If you complain to anyone (other than the borrower), an all-knowing crooked smile is flashed at you and you end up being bestowed with that oft quoted piece of ancient wisdom: “Vanitaa, vittam, pustakam parahastam gatam gatah”.

The people who borrow books and do not return them or return them in a thoroughly mutilated condition do not seem to understand something. It is not just a book. There is a lot of you associated with the book. You may have bought that book with the pocket money of one year or with your first salary; you may have bought it when you were on that memorable trip to Paradise with ur girlfriend (or boyfriend); you may have bought it when you had that famous tiff with your girlfriend (or boyfriend) and that book was your only solace for the few hours that the tiff continued. It may be a signed copy or a limited edition copy; it may be a book which had been long out of print when you picked it up in the crowded stalls of College Square braving the withering glares and vicious, wilting glances of that bewitchingly pretty damsel coveting the same book (and you gave up coveting her – proving to be a tad above Sage Viswamitra), off the dusty pavements on Abids Road after a long search for the book with your book-loving dad (who is no more now) when the temperature was soaring at 45C or in the charmingly dilapidated Moore Market. The memories associated with a book are often more precious than the book itself. One can borrow my books, perhaps. Can one borrow my memories or, what is worse, destroy my memories?

If you have books and if you have some friends, the friends are bound to covet your books sooner than later. But my vision is not clouded and my priorities are pretty clear. I value my books just as well as I value my gal. And I am as devious as I am determined to keep both my gal and my books out of harm’s way! That may bother my friends; but that does not bother me. Just as I would throw out a friend who covets my gal, I would throw out a friend who covets my books. Ruthless I can be.

If the person seeking to borrow a book is a gal who makes my heart flutter whenever she smiles, I brace myself firmly to say a charming but firm ‘No’ – consoling myself that acquiescing to her does not ensure anyway that I would win her over and that gals are often believed to like men who are charming and firm at the same time! If you are a guy whose heart flutters because of every other gal that passes by … aaaah, life can be difficult and I can only commiserate with you if you were in my shoes.

If you lend some insignificant book in the hope that the borrower would not return it any way and so would not dare seek to borrow another book, well you are in for a nasty surprise. The familiar trick that works with money just does not seem to work with books.

So what do I do to preserve my books, my memories, my life, my lifelines?

When I talk about myself (which is most of the time), I do make it a point to veer the conversation round to my love for books and add in all seeming innocence that I do not lend books. Neither a borrower nor a lender be, I tell them, because the loan loses both the friend and the book. (I do take care to add that I am a worthy exception to the usual lot of people who borrow books!) Most take the hint. If they don’t, well, God save them from a more pointed refusal.

Yet, I am not satisfied. I think stronger preventive measures are called for.

Barring the most impossibly dull books (going by popular preferences) which I am almost certain that nobody would bother to read or borrow (except perhaps to adorn their bookshelves with and pass off as well-read), I hide them all in cardboard cartons – taking care to take them out once in a way to dust them and replace the naphthalene balls in the cartons. Some books I do hide in my cupboard with wooden shutters and keep the cupboard firmly shut and securely locked, the key always on my person - something like the proverbial key on the person of an ogre whose life depended on the life of a parrot held captive in a golden cage in an impossible island beyond the seven seas.

The deviousness and camouflage work – most often. Sometimes they do not. In those cases, I might lie that the key is lost. Truthfulness sacrificed for a worthy cause.

All because I am a book bee – a bee which does not sting so much as a honeybee but is far craftier.

When all is said and done, an average day in the life of a book bee is tough. Tougher than that of a honeybee. Believe me.


Sujatha said...

awesome. i so identify. i am a book bee:)

Sujatha said...

reread. like i said, freshly baked cookies

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