A friend shared this beautiful quote with me, which I promptly shared with my book loving daughter, as well as my book loving friend:
“There is space on everyone’s bookshelf for book you have outgrown but can’t give away. They hold your youth between their pages, like flowers pressed on a half-forgotten summer’s day.”
I left my country for love with simply the clothes on my back and just a couple of books that I could not leave behind. And then, I brought back books after each trip home. I think hard on which books made the first trip with me, but unfortunately I don’t remember. They are mixed in with all the books that I have accumulated over the years. I wish I could remember.
However, I have brought back books that transported me to their worlds temporarily during half forgotten summer days in my youth. Books like Adorsho Hindu Hotel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay holds my youth within its page. Tenida Shomogro by Narayan Gangopadhyay holds my youth like pressed flowers within its pages. There are too many to name – Chander pahar, any book written by Nabonita Debsen, Shirshendu Bandopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Ashapurna Debi. Along with these stalwarts of Bengali literature reside one and only Jane Austen, Gerald Durrell, Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens, Enid Blyton….
Memories of devouring the pages of Adorsho Hindu Hotel is always a soft place where I land when I think back on my reading memories. I remember our cool first floor room darkened by thick curtains to keep the angry sun out during summer afternoons, and I, half inclined on our bed, reading about Hajari Thakur, a cook in a cheap roadside restaurant in rural Bengal – a man invisible to society due to his poverty, slowly becoming visible because of his humility, work ethic and integrity. It is a story of the success of ‘everyman’ without compromising his ethics. Weaved within the story is the fabric of humanity, complete with love, greed, exploitation and opportunities. The story pulls at my heart string to this day when I think about it. And when I think about the book, I think about my mother. They are synonymous because in my mind’s eye she is always present next to me when I am reading this book. She reads her own book as I read mine. I see this scene vividly when I close my eyes.
“You know the plant is going to die, right?” Sahana said to me with slight panic in her voice, cutting off my effusive gushing over “obstinate ma plant”. In my slightly unbalanced (hopefully temporary) mind, the geranium that I planted the day after ma’s death has truly become her alter ego. Sahana seemed concerned I will plunge back into dooms of despair once the plant has lived its lifetime. I laughed at the panic in her voice.
I was narrating the story to a friend. She asked if I had considered pressing petals of those flowers within pages of a book? I thought that was a brilliant idea. The dilemma, however, was which book deserved the petals of obstinate ma plant? And how did one press petals to dry anyway? The second part was easy since Google has the answers. The difficult decision was which book would ma love to be remembered in? Was it a book by her “pran er thakur” Rabindranath? Manik Bondopadhyay? Mahashweta Debi? Poetry of Sukanto? All of them were her loves but I finally decided on Ashapurna Debi’s “Prothom Protusruti”. My fledgling feminism took flight at a young age when ma first passed on this book to me. Since then I must have read the book and it’s sequels over a dozen times. The story follows the life of a little girl in rural Bengal at the beginning of the 20th century when Bengal society was tightly shackled by social restrictions imposed by upper caste men. The book, while narrating the story of Satyabati, touches on all the restrictions placed on women to limit their freedom – the most important one among many was denying them education. The belief was if a woman touched paper or pen she would be a widow. When Satyabati’s cousin shudders at the fact that Satyabati has taught herself to write, the little girl finds a loophole in that theory right away. How can women touching pen or paper be paap (bad karma) when the goddess of learning, Debi Saraswati is a woman herself? Satyabati questioned each and every tradition that curbed women’s rights and flouted every rule that tried to hold her down. She managed to loosen the chains just a bit for the future generation of women.
Ma too fought patriarchy every step of the way. She refused any kind of limitations to such an extent that I, in my childhood, sometimes thought, “Oh just get along. Give in!” Looking back I realize she was loosening the chains so that her daughter and grand daughter can have space to spread their wings. She emulated Satyabati all her life, at the expense of her own peace and happiness sometimes. I know it is only fitting that petals from “obstinate ma plant” find their resting place in the pages of the book that tell her story.
Lately I am copying a lot of ideas from my friend and fellow blogger The World Common Tater. Imitation is a form of flattery, Tater. I am sticking with that story. I found this fun post on his blog site.
This is hard, though! This is like choosing your favorite child!
What are 1-3 of your favourite books of all time?
Mahabharat by Vyasa
Persuasion by Jane Austen
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
What are 1-3 of your favourite authors of all time?
Who is your favourite female character from a book?
Satyabati from Prothom Protishruti by Ashapurna Debi
Who is your favourite male character from a book?
Feluda from Satyajit Ray’s Feluda Shomogro
What’s your favourite fictional world?
The land of OZ from The Wizard of Oz
What book has your favourite book cover?
The Girl with a Louding Voice by Abi Dare
What’s your favourite book-to-movie adaptation?
Shonar Kella by Satyajit Ray
If you could make any book into a movie, which would it be?
The Rising Man and the sequels by Abir Mukherjee
What was your favourite childhood book?
Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
Fantasy or Sci-fi (or neither)?
Definitely, fantasy. However, neither genres are my absolute favorite but I would read a fantasy over a sci fi.
I hope some more people do this. I would love to see your answers – says Tater. My choices may not excite folks who read books written in English. But how could I leave out my first love? Treasures of Bengali literature.