By Namitha Varma
You were nestling atop the bookshelf, between a battered Harold Robbins and a few tomes of Umberto Eco, patiently waiting for someone to take you home. You were picked up endlessly by second-hand book hunters but dismissed, for more contemporary choices like Baldacci and Brown. Your cover spoke of neglect; your leaves were dry and crumbling. Yet, I could not put you back, and I bought you for a paltry Rs. 45. You looked at me quizzically I thought, as if questioning my judgment on taking you home, but you also seemed grateful for the relief from your high perch. I could sympathise with your acrophobia, however well you hid it all these years.
Honestly, when I saw you, I almost walked past your decrepit form. But my fingers walked back to you instinctively. I pulled you out, dropping thirteen books in the process. The store owner gave me a dirty look, but I apologised and put them all back. Your outer garment was covered in chewing gum remains, the back cover was missing, and the inner pages were dog-eared.
I smelt the cigarette of one of your readers, who perhaps also owned you for a time, considering the ash stain on pages 104 and 105 and a small burn on page 187. I could almost taste the pizza eaten by another, that left ketchup-and-cheese remains on pages 88 and 89. On pages 12 and 13, I saw the remnants of the young girl who dropped an egg yolk on you. Maybe she disliked the yellow bits just like I do or she was just a sloppy eater like my friend Madhav. Pages 42 and 43 bore remains of some turmeric-and-chilli curry, which that reader might have ignored while enjoying you. Pages 146 and 147 were stuck together with a blob of chewed gum; it smelled like strawberry. Pages 99 and 100 were scratched by another reader’s cat, probably snarling to grab attention away from you.
In the margins of random pages, a young hand had scribbled notes – she seems to have used you for studies. Wow, you must be proud, having been to college and all! Or, did it hurt you to hear yourself being torn apart, character by character, thought by thought? Someone also loved you, Book. Look at these lipstick marks on page 125! She kissed you! Do you dream of her now? Was she prettier than me?
I own you now. With all the memories of all your readers, I become you.
*inspired by a snatch of description of old furniture in Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Tailed a Thief.