When I’m at home you’re most likely to find me sitting on a sofa in a windowless room in my basement, barricaded behind shelves and stacks of books. This is my refuge. This is where I come after fighting against the world. Without knowing it, in this respect I’ve turned into my father. He had set up part of the house where I grew as a personal library.
Many of the conversations with my father that I remember most vividly were around books– not only their content, but in which distant city he had bought them and for how much; the marginalia and the editions. I never had much small talk with him. But he would share his excitement whenever he found a rare book. He was a consummate collector and a voracious reader, up most nights reading.
As my father got older, his eyesight began to fail him. He would keep a magnifying glass on his table next to the table lamp. His recurring nightmare was no one would take care of his books. This was his “Après moi, le déluge“. I brought over to the United States some of the books he had collected- the moth-eaten copy of Tagore’s “Hungry Stones” he won as a prize in school, the yellow-paged “Kobita Shomogro” of Bishnu Dey he bought from the Kolkata Book Fair.
Instinctively, I understood. When my basement flooded a few years ago, my first concern was “what will happen to my books?” Fortunately, the damage was minimal, though the concern remains.
What is a home anyway? Home where your books are safe and have space. Home is the permanent address for your books.
When I visit the house where I grew up, I still find my bearings. The books on the shelf are exactly as I had placed them decades ago, their pages slightly dusty and worn. And it is comforting. In a world where nothing exists and no one can be relied on anymore, books offer a sense of security and escape, false perhaps, but much needed.