Made myself a promise before I got to Bombay: “Babu,” I sez, “you may do many things in Bombay. You may get onto the wrong trains (did that). You may fall out of a taxi in Bandra (ditto). You may even dance on tables (on the to-do list) singing obscene Bengali songs (did that already). But promise me you will not buy more books. Delhi has a Crossword, a Bookshop, a Bookworm, a Sunday bazaar, a… it has books, okay? What you have on the other hand is four cartons of books, unpacked, because there are no cupboards to put them into. Your last house guest left when you suggested he might want to exchange the pullout divan for a couch built on books (imagine a pillow constructed of Murakami, Joyce, Gibson, Proulx, with a little Jasper Fforde and George Macdonald Fraser added for padding). Ergo, no books. Please?”
The Babu promised. But then, and then. Crossword had books on discount. Strand, which he promised dutifully not to visit, not after his last visit there ended in those distressing Bankrupts Anonymous meetings, did the dirty on him. He still hasn’t visited Strand the bookshop; but he’s showed up every day, for the last three days, for the annual Strand sale, held at another venue. And let us not speak of the pavement bookstores near Flora Fountain, of Lotus in its debased, inside-the-petrol-pump avatar which yielded three great buys all the same.
What the Babu needs now is a bag. To contain all the books, ranging from Pete Singer to Rilke to Potocki to etcetera that he’s bought, against his will. What’s happening here has more in common with addiction than dry literary appreciation: he has joined the ranks of People Who Can’t Help Buying Books. If they have money–anyone’s money–and they pass a bookstore, they cannot help themselves, little Arun will have to manage without his crutches, so sad.
Some day, the Babu dreams of owning a self-editing library. This paragon of inventions would automatically sort through your books and eliminate the ones too dog-eared, too sellotaped to read any more, while saving the ones that are of deeply emotional importance, such as the first book you read alongside your first love on a football field, now fallen to bits, but each page marked with grass stains, entombed bugs, chocolate. It would tactfully send to the Graveyard of Remainders all the books that turned out to be Mistakes: the ones by authors you loved who had inexplicable periods of bad writing caused by gastric upsets, the ones gifted by well-meaning friends who had no real idea of your tastes, the ones you thought were brilliant at 17 and winced, at 40, to own up to having read at all. The self-editing library would retain copies of Ghost Books: the ones you don’t read much any more, but that would materialise upon being summoned when required. It would compress the books read only seldom into a single shelf; it would expand, to giant coffee table size, the books you need to read, right now, but that you’d put aside.
Instead, what the Babu has is a new bag. And a lot of explaining to do to the partner about why we suddenly need seven new book cupboards instead of just two more.