OLD BOOKS A friends post on facebook of having bought a load of books in Daryagunj without intending to; brought back a flood of memories. There’s something about old book bazaars that bring out the addict in me. I am not alone in this affliction, as plenty of others have it too, like a congenital defect that is incurable. It is probably hereditary, as my daughter has it now, and I have traced back this problem to my grandparents too. Most houses I have lived in since childhood have had areas, if not rooms, dedicated to the storage of books, but they continue to spill over and occupy most of the other rooms too. I have seen this in my grandparents place as well. Whenever we shift home, the logistics of carrying crates and cartons of books pose a problem, and it is usually the furniture that is sacrificed to make space. It is not as if all of them are read. There are those I have been carrying around through three different cities without having read them through. The three volumes of War and Peace, Das KapitaL and a pedantic translation of the Bhagabatyam among them. In any case, being a member of various libraries all along, and now with the advent of Kindle and Notepads it is not necessary to buy books anymore, so it was not as if we needed to buy books. In fact a vast majority of what we read was though these sources. Buying books was a disorder, one which is shared by plenty of unbalanced people. Then there are the much read and well thumbed loved ones, which we can’t throw away and replace with a smarter edition however dog eared and grimy they become with use, as they are like familiar friends, and you can open a familiar passage blindly to reread whenever in need of comfort. Like comfort food, we have comfort books too. A practical Aunt, who, as a class, as we all know, aren’t gentlemen, once warned me that my obsession with books and reading will drive my future wife to infidelity. So when I discovered a pretty lady who also had a vast library at home, I started haunting her, not only to borrow from her excellent collection, but ultimately to share my life with a fellow addict. Finances were a constraint, and this is where the old book bazaars of Daryagunj Sunday market, Flora fountain, College Street and their brethren step in. The pleasure of hunting through old books for that rare gem gives you the thrill of a hunter on the trail, and the patience required is reminiscent of an angler, with the thrill of finding it is like getting a bite and reeling in or the kill after the chase. The only shooting I have done is with a camera, but the analogy holds. I don’t look for pristine editions either, as the dedications, scribbles, underlined bits tell their own story, and it is like getting an extra story for free. I speculate on the previous owners, their tastes and foibles, the circumstances behind acquiring them and disposing them in this manner. School prizes and loving gifts in the second hand mart evoke pathos, and obviously untouched gifts generate bathos. When the notes and markings resonate with my own reactions there is a sudden fellow feeling for an unseen previous owner. When they don’t it gives you a new perspective. It is like discussing the book with a fellow fan. I have learnt to live with this affliction, and bond with fellow sufferers, not for a cure, but to wallow in this wonderful madness.