“Oh no! That was a library book!”


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!!!!!!

Love of books


I am not a scholar by any means but I do feel an inexplicable love towards books. I love holding books, I love smelling them, the rustle of pages makes me happy, I love talking about them, I love people who read! I do not know when this love affair started and why it started. I only know that my mother is responsible for it. It is a blessing and a curse. Books bring joy to me, they give me freedom to travel without moving an inch, they help me know the unknown through written words. Books help me dream of a better world, books unveil the layers in human psyche and books teach me empathy. Books are a blessing. The curse? My life relegates itself to an insignificant corner while I devour books. The other day at work, as I was helping an elderly customer we started chatting about the kinds of books we liked to read. After exchanging our mutual interests and cooing over authors we both enjoyed, she said to me in a conspiratorial whisper:

“You know my mother would be very displeased with me, but after I have finished my morning chores, I go up to my room, lay down on my bed and I read. My mother would not have liked to see me lie in my bedroom in the middle of the day with a book. But I tell myself, I have worked all my life, now I have earned these luxurious afternoons with just my books.”

I agreed with her wholeheartedly, and I told her so. My mother, on the other hand, showed me by example that afternoons are for reading books unless you are taking a nap. And what better way to nap than falling asleep while reading, snoozing off while a book rests on your chest?

Kolkata Book fair, since, I was a little girl was like carnival time for me and many of my book loving friends. As a child, I went with my mother, her hand held mine tightly as she ran with me from one stall to another buying books for herself and me with what little money she had. When I grew up and went to college, the annual book fair was a sacred pilgrimage for many of us. We waited for classes to end so we could get on a minibus and head towards Maidan, where the book fair was held every year. They have changed the venue, I hear. A few of us in our naiveté even pledged to come back every year to the Book fair for annual rendezvous no matter which part of the world we lived in. I smile when I think of that promise. How young we were, how innocent.

Sean asked me out on our first date with these words, and I quote verbatim, “So, when are you going to the book fair with me?” Dude was clever. He knew it would be hard for me turn down a trip to the book fair. “What! With you?? No, you are a foreigner, I can’t be seen with a foreigner. I am a good Indian woman, I don’t go out with little known white man! I like your attention and I like you but I don’t want to be alone with you. That is scary!! Wait, book fair you say? Gulp! Public place, what can you do? If you get nasty I will just call for help and have the mob beat you up.” While all those erratic thoughts fired in my head, I said, “Yes, I will go to the book fair with you!” Kolkata book fair saw our first date and the blossoming of our romance 🙂 !

Within a week of us moving to Baltimore after marriage, Sean woke up one morning and said he was going to take me to a special place. I will be very happy there. He would not tell me where.

“Do I need to get dressed up for it?” I asked bubbling with excitement at the uncertainty.
“No, just comb your hair and brush your teeth!”

We walked a couple of blocks from our apartment and came to a beautiful, historic building with arches and big windows. Enoch Pratt Free Public Library, I read with my head tilted way back. I walked in almost in a daze. The old smell and the expansive inner courtyard with natural lights flooding the inside from the skylights took my breath away. I wanted to move in there. Nobody checked my bag, nobody demanded money. All I had to do was mail myself a self addressed envelope for address check, bring it in the next time and got my library card, my gatepass to the land of unlimited books. The winter of USA was bitter for a woman from the land of warmth and sun. The library was my refuge. When I did not need to check out books, I simply roamed the huge building, stroking the antique banisters, smelling the scent of books, getting lost in the stacks. The library and I created memories. The library introduced me to American authors who I knew little of in India. I fell in love with some of them.

Then life happened. We moved. We created a family. We moved again back to the suburbs. I discovered the county library. From a very young age, I took my children to the library because I wanted them to grow up between books. And I secretly harbored a desire to work there – one day. As the children grew, I started questioning my reason for staying at home but I had lost the confidence. I had been out of the job market for 12 long years. I decided to start putting my foot in the threshold by volunteering. I accepted the role of library grandparent (in my thirties) and read books to children. Then I interfiled books and dvds. After volunteering for 3 years while Ryan was in pre-school and kindergarten, I gathered sufficient courage to look for openings. A friend messaged me that a position was available at the library I volunteered in and I applied. The interview went well, the interviewers laughed which I took to be a good sign. In the mean time, I was exploring the possibility of becoming involved in this wonderful initiative Project Literacy educating adult learners who are interested in getting their high school diploma. As I was driving back from one of the final meetings of Project Literacy, I got a call from the HR of the library.

“Thank you for interviewing. We would like to offer you the position….!”

Magical words, after 12 years of staying at home. Small dream for many, but it was MY dream and it came true. How can a job that requires me to read and read more not be a dream job? So when the cobwebs hang from the walls and the dinner, on occasion, is a hasty affair, I rationalize to the family – ‘Sorry, I was working!’ 🙂

I will most likely never be rich working at a library but strangely enough I feel richer every day as I finish the last page of a really good book, close it with a contented sigh and look at my untidy bedside table with books piled high. Life is good with books in it.