I was maybe 3 when I developed the conditioned reflex of smiling at the sight of a book. My mother had made it a habit to read to me as often as she could, and oh, how grateful I am to her for it every day! I, in turn, was enthralled by the world that could be found in those pages. How could it be that she could leaf through this rectangle full of sheets with funny symbols on them and see such wonderful stories unfolding before her eyes? I just had to learn to do that!
“What does that mean?” and “Where is that word written?” became daily questions, and their answers seemed much more interesting than admiring the multitude of brightly coloured illustrations so many of my books contained. As a result, I was reading long before I learnt the alphabet. My love for reading only deepened as I grew older, and anyone who knew me for 2 seconds knew that a book would be the ideal gift for me for any occasion, and my library expanded at an exponential rate.
Now, as I prepare to move to the other side of the world, I find myself surrounded by things I cannot possibly carry along, however much I may want to. After donating many kilograms of clothes and shoes, today, I turned to the gigantic bookshelf I am immensely proud of.
Having recently adopted greener ways and bought a Kindle, I thought that sorting out books to donate would be the easiest giveaway task of the entire moving process. After all, I only had to list the books I wanted in my collection and that were available as e-books, and then pile them in one of the large bags strewn on the floor.
I don’t know what made me open the first of the books. But when I did, I saw a sticker staring up at me. “Miss Amrita Bhardwaj. 2nd in class. Standard IV B.” That was when I realized how many memories I was giving away too. Countless similar stickers went by (clearly I was a bit of a nerd!), intermixed with numerous birthday messages, and several more random “Enjoy the world of _____” notes from all those loving people who had always remembered that a book was always the best way to make me happy.
There were so many complete series I had bought, thinking that I would save them and read them to my own children someday. So many thoughtful messages from so many friends. How was I supposed to just let go of all of that? I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of emotions just the sight of those pages brought back, even without being read. I was surprised to find that I still remember which ones my mother used to read to me before I learnt to do it relatively independently, which ones I had read while I was sick, and which ones I had hidden from her while reading because I couldn’t bear to have a daily limit imposed on fiction.
I have donated a fragment of myself with every book I have placed in a giveaway bag today, and it has left me feeling strangely hollow, despite the fact that I am already in the process of downloading their electronic versions. I had never dreamed that I would be so attached to those bundles of paper that adorned my childhood structure of pride that now stands half-empty in my living room. (There are some books I just couldn’t find it in my heart to part with.)
There is a ray of sunshine in the situation though: by donating my prized-possessions to a free library, I have been a source of happiness to many children who would not otherwise have been able to afford the joy of reading.
All those of you who don’t understand us lovers of books: please do yourself a favour and pick one up. It can be about anything— anything in the world. It can be any length— 50 pages or 1000. Just open a book and experience that feeling of getting lost in the pages where you are given just the story and your mind is free to imagine everything else. Feel that urgency to read just one more chapter … that temptation to skip ahead to the end … that strange mixture of both satisfaction and a twinge of sadness when you finish the last page. There are countless of us who have our most precious childhood memories hidden in a cosy nook, lost in a book. Gift yourself this unique joy found only in words. You will thank me later, I promise.