Monday, August 01, 2011

Aaj Purani Raho Sey Koi Mujhe Awaz Na Dey Dard Mei Dubey Geet Na De Gham Ka Sisakta Saz Na De Beete Dinon Ki Yaad Thi Jinmein Maein Woh Tarane Bhool Chuka

William Dalrymple in the City of Djinns writes about meeting a Begum Hamida Sultan who lives in Shahjehanabad. Mourning a city and a language long dead, she tells us, "Partition was a total catastrophe for Delhi. Those who were left behind are in misery. Those who were uprooted are in misery. The peace of Delhi is gone. Now it is all gone." At the end of their meeting Dalrymple's wife Olivia asks Sultan whether they could see her again and if they do whether she wanted something brought over from Delhi.
The Begum replies (and quite haughtily, Dalrymple writes) 
"I do not need anything. Do not come back", adding (and this is the part that resonates best with me) I just want to be forgotten.

For I have been in a Begum Hamida Sultan kind of a mood lately.

But as ever the toddler breaks my reverie piping  "Why Mama angry?"
And I may try to bat his questions away with a "Ek udhra sa marsia hai jau ab thak sameyta nahi aur tum ek naya tarana cherhney ko kehtey ho? (I am yet to pen my requiem and you tease me with a ballad)
He thinks for a minute and then squats to the ground. Balling his hands into fists he pushes them down, his eyes squinting shut with the effort "Mama do like this , ummmph and poo poop comes quickly"
The boy does have his moments.

So considering I am still trying to string my words--words that keep slipping off their spool into rooms I should have long closed the door to; I choose to walk away from them for the day.  The library? I think to myself as I lock the door to the house behind me.

On my way to the library I cross a man with a basket on his head in which a bouquet of hens draw themselves closer into each other in tight rosebuds. And a small boy juggles a packet of sweater sleeves which flap around him like octopus tentacles. The sleeves will probably walk off him and take a plane ride half way across the world meeting a torso here, a neckline there.

As I enter the library, the librarian wags a stern finger under my nose "Where were you?" He greets me like this every time, slightly annoyed, though he has yet to tell to me what irks him so;  I find his accusations quite comforting, like there is someone in the city who is ardent that I keep to the straight and narrow. And I realise once more how I am happiest when  surrounded by books, or people who live with books-- though the toddler has converted our love affair to a tricky menage trois. (If I was in Pakistan someone might have joked phir aap aur koi shauq rakhtee I should have cultivated someone, something else to amuse myself with). But if I was in Pakistan I could have introduced you to a family of sisters who are all librarians. "We call ourselves the Librarian Sisters" one of them told me. I found it as romantic as if she had just told me they were the Mitford sisters. The one I met had been eccentric enough to qualify as one. As an electrician clambered over our heads on a bookshelf, pushing books into careless piles on the floor to make room for a foothold; she whispered how she did not mind him. It were educated people like me who made her wary- we were more liable to pilfer her book collection.

On a good day I may call the Dhaka collection one that is self restrained, raised on the frugal diet of a strict school marm. There should be a sign somewhere in the library. You eat what is on the table missy, read what is on the shelf. And somehow after a long episode of word gluttony, one where I lolled around like a debauched Roman on a couch plucking words, so many words, off digital vines. But still feeling slightly bored, strangely apprehensive that I may be missing out on some exotic dish. Hollering for anything, anything now to amuse my taste buds! yes, yes perhaps a spartan diet should suit me best now. I knew how spoiled I had become the day I told the librarian that I could not find the library catalog  on the computer and he looked up at me all arched eyebrows

 The card catalog is in the corner madam. Author name, book name all together, in the same drawer.. Arranged by alphabet". 

(The computer is for checking the internet, and you have to sign your name in the register, time logged in , time logged out). Yes a spartan diet for me, please.

And I go through the shelves. And make my selection. 

He reaches for a stack of library cards in the drawer, removes the rubber band that holds them together and looks through them furtively (He still does not trust me enough to take my library card home with me! With library books yes, albeit grudgingly, but not the card. No not yet. Perhaps librarians are told to hold their books close and the library cards closer!)

"Two books only," he reminds me.

"But, but, what if they get over on the weekend?" I beseech him sliding another across the table.

"Then you come back again on Monday and issue more", picking up the first two from my pile.

What follows next is a well choreographed dance as he reaches for the library stamp kit from an alcove of file folders on the corner of his desk. Taking great care he opens the stamp pad slowly removing the plastic foil covering the ink. In his hand the stamp pirouettes briefly over the ink pad landing firmly on the checkout page at the back of the book. His hand hovers for a brief moment over the page, and then taking a final sigh , he closes the book moving it towards me. He replaces the foil on the ink pad and returns it to it's cubbyhole.  Examining his fingers briefly for ink stains he reaches next for a slim register, thumbing through the pages for one that bears my name. In a cautious script he makes an entry for the books in the register placing the pages in front of me making a gesture for me to sign. I rummage in my hand bag.

"Do you have a pen" his tone accusatory again and  grimacing gives me his.

And we are done.

Later I go home, and keep the books in a tray on my bedside table. The husband enters the room and sneaks off with one for a work trip. The Toddler follows and places  one of his on top . Defiant. "Mama YOU READ THIS!!!"


And as it was Rafi's death anniversary yesterday I leave you with this beautiful lullaby and  ask when did we move from this 

to Adam Mansback and Go The Fuck to Sleep

Though as a friend tells me it is not that the children look a wee bit sleepy in the lullaby


  1. i may have heard of a mulkraj
    but of a wibbly pig? never ever.
    spill the details omitting no wibble however slight.

  2. The card catalogue- my moment in heaven!

    For the brief time thumbing through the card catalogue you can organise your next few decades around the books you want to drown in.

  3. This took me back to the library days from school - green library cards and book cards in the jackets inside the book covers - a long list of dates chronicling the popularity of the book in question.

    Small stuff, hugely important memories :)

  4. They don't make libraries like that anymore in these parts. Loved reading your experience - almost felt like I was there :)

  5. Aneela aka Begum Hamida Sultan, I had given up on libraries, and now, you make me want them all over again.

  6. I have always loved that song from 'Brahmachari'. There is a sad version too, you know. I love how we had sad and happy versions of songs. :)

    I also love Arhaan's solution. Sometimes a good session on the throne does make one infinitely more cheerful.

  7. Trust Arhaan to get to the bottom of your angst:)
    I love your library:)


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