As all of Hardy's books, you can either be totally taken in by it, or absolutely bored by it. I love Hardy's style and plots. So daring and so beautiful. Jude the Obscure particularly pushes the limits. The trials of an unmarried couple, if I can take the liberty to simplify it so stupidly! Hardy was introduced to me by my English teacher Mrs Kamakshi when I was in Class 8. Must have been 13 or so. She gave us a short speech and asked us to identify what was unique about the speech. Only two of us in class could identify that the speech was a string of book names. Two in a tower, far from the madding crowd, jude the obscure... it went on. I had remembered the names from my sister's and father's library books.But it was only a year later that I read my first Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd, as the teacher insisted I should. And I was hooked to it.
Then my father's friend (Kapali mama, whose children were not into books) gifted me his entire collection of Hardy and Lawrence, when he realised i was interested in these books. Old books from the '50s and '60s. Yellowed. Name written with an old-style fountain pen, bound in cardboard and canvas for longevity.
Everytime I read one of the books from that collection, it is not just the plots and words that transport me into a dream world. It is also what I imagine of the previous readers of the book. Old uncles in the younger days, reading Hardy in public and Lawrence on the sly.
Discussing the daring adventures of the heroes of these books. The poetic flow of the authors... the many friends of Kapali mama who borrowed (was my dad one of them) the books and read it under the single electric bulb in the sitting room in the late '50s.
I don't think I ever quite thanked Ms Kamakshi for nurturing my love for books, introducing me to new authors, tolerating my over-ambitious florid essays and gently guiding me towards more understated elegance. That I am still in love with books and words is a tribute to her. I don't know where she is, if she is still there. She was nearing 60 when I was finishing school in 1991.
Again, I don't think I thanked Kapali mama sufficiently either. I just greedily grabbed the books with a perfunctory 'thank you'. He is no more, but am sure he is aware that the books are in good hands, and his gesture was enormously appreciated.
Next time someone introduces me to an author, lends or gifts me a book, I better thank them properly when I have the opportunity.
While on this, I better thank my dad, who however hard-up he was (4 daughters and a sister to educate and take care of, apart from a long line of cousins who stayed with us, all on one salary), he could never say no to money that would be spent on books or studies. He can quote from Shakespeare and whole bunch of other classics. He is the one who drilled into us that no matter what you have in the wardrobe, it is what you have on your bookshelf that matters (not so politely though).
And then I should thank my sister (no 3). She made reading books hip for me. Since all other rolemodels where old and not-so-fashionable, it was the sight of my college-going sister burying herself in the classics, that kept me clear of other junk books that my friends devoured. Of course, I would sneak in a few in defiance, but never enjoyed the read.
Books. What would our life be without it?
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