When I was little, if our feet ever touched a book (or paper, or a musical instrument) we apologized to goddess Saraswati by touching our hand to our heads – a gesture of pranam. Goddess Saraswati was the keeper of education and all forms arts, and the paraphernalia of objects associated with arts were sacrosanct, especially books. We were taught to take care of books so as not to anger the goddess and get bad grades in school. I was very religious and always loved Saraswati with all my heart. Therefore, I was extra cautious about my actions when it came to taking care of reading or writing material. Who wants the wrath of the goddess of learning upon themselves? That could result in bad grades and that meant the wrath of my mother! Before exams, I always prayed hard to her to score brownie points. I would stand in front of her idol, eyes closed, hands folded in front of me – a picture of utter devotion. I took very good care of all my books and papers, partly out of fear but mostly out of love for this beautiful, serene, white saree clad goddess. My mother, who was not remotely religious, continued with the story of goddess and books to nurture my good habit. Whatever works, right?
By the time Saraswati ceased to be real for me, an innate respect for books and good maintenance of them had been well cultivated within me. To this day, I have a soft corner for this particular goddess of learning who is constantly overshadowed by her sister Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. And in a strange way, I feel I chose her in my life by finding a job at the library. Let’s face it, I am never getting rich working there. And I say rich in a materialistic sense, of course. Lakshmi figured out my partiality to her sister and turned her face away.
I have tried my best to cultivate a healthy respect for books in my two children. Books are important and maintaining them well is necessary. I borrowed library books for them since they were very little. We came home, counted the books each had and placed them on a shelf where only library books could stay. Pages were not to be dog eared, they could not be upended, drinks and food had to be carefully consumed near library books and they had to be returned on time. The rules were clear. If they lost a book, they were responsible for paying for it. Needless to say, not one book has been lost so far.
When Ryan was around 4 years old, a dear friend came to visit us. Ryan instantly took a liking to him and stuck to him like glue. After playing baseball, after bonking our friend on the head with an accidental wild throw, after running around in the yard, after talking incessantly, Ryan brought him a book to read aloud. I forget what book it was, but I remember it had a dragon in it who was causing all sorts of trouble. As each page was read, Ryan got more and more involved in the story – eyes wide, mouth open. After several misdeeds, the dragon lastly breathed fire and made a hole in the page. The story ended. And Ryan cried out:
Oh no! He made a whole in the page??? BUT THAT WAS A LIBRARY BOOK!!!!!!