To those who’ve borrowed my books. I’ll get them back slowly but surely. To those whose books I’ve borrowed – I love you! They shall be returned with a note of gratitude and a cupcake.
She gave me the most beautiful dress I’ve ever owned. We walked into a closet that would make Carrie Bradshaw's penthouse look like cardboard box, and with a hint of sadness in her eyes, Shruti bequeathed me with a treasure she said didn’t quite go on her. She’s a fashionista, she is. She’s generous too. She’ll lend you a dress (within reason, so don’t take this as a testimonial for some free service) when you think you’ve got nothing that will do justice to an occasion. But don’t…ever…ask…to borrow one of her books. The answer, I’ll tell you right now, is NO!
It was a beautiful copy of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro which sat on her newly stocked bookshelf. It seemed to be making a pass at me. “Take me home,” it said in a low, seductive voice. “Just a fling for a few nights and then you can bring me straight back home.”
“I don’t let people borrow my books,” was her response when I told her about this conversation. I couldn’t help but point out that she had just given me – straight out of her closet and into a paper bag, please, it will totally look better on you – a beautiful peach dress. Then why couldn’t stand to part with, for a day or two months, a book she had just finished reading a few weeks ago?
It’s like she said. She didn’t loan her books out to people and the reason though curt, was straight forward: “People never return them (“I do,” I argued to deaf ears) and I’ve lost too many books to even begin accounting for where they went.” That’s when I felt my ego begin to crack and started poking, prodding and even resorting to bratty emotional blackmail (“But I will die if I don’t read it!”) to have my way.
Thing is, I really want to read Never Let Me Go. But buying it isn’t on top of my literary priorities. The prospect of borrowing it just seemed better at the time so I wanted to make the most of having a friend who owned a copy.
But her refusal made me think about her passion for the shelf she is so painstakingly building with books she will either read immediately or save until a later date. They’re her friends and she’ll do anything to keep them feeling safe and appreciated. I couldn’t help but respect that – at first because she didn’t give me much of a choice – and then think about how much sense it made. How many books have I lost track of over the years? There’s The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, one of my favourite books to date. Not to mention My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, a gift from a dear friend at university. Then there’s Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri with Hema and Kaushik, a story so sad that I still cry when I think of it. And then there are several others which were equally important to me, but have been gone so long that they only come back to me when a conversation, an incident or a stray thought on the Mumbai Local sends me running to my bookshelf to locate them in vain.
Clothes wear out or go out of fashion. But books are eternal, like diamonds. They’re your friends who tell you stories that make you laugh, cry, take you places you’ve never seen and educate you beyond anything a fancy education can ever offer.
Shruti’s got a good policy that I’m about to adopt. Keep your books close to your heart and don’t borrow those that mean something to others. Because books belong to you though, more importantly, you belong to your books.