Her name was Diya.I could clearly see that she was impressed with what she saw. She oohed and aahed through the room, occasionally pausing to take a close look.
“You know what..” she turned to face me. “This place is unbelievable. It’s quite a collection that you have got here”
I muttered thanks and tried not to blush.
“So these are your grandfather’s collection?” I nodded. I wished that I had not told her that when she called this morning. May be she would have thought highly about me if I allowed her to think these books were mine!
But how on the earth could I have guessed that she was this charming? When she introduced herself as a librarian , I had expected a middle aged, big spectacled , plainly dressed middle aged woman.
“I am quite surprised that you guys have decided to sell these off” She looked longingly at the cupboards.
“Yeah..it was a tough decision to make, but you know we live in Singapore. There is no way that we could carry these all the way there. Because of shipping cost and all” I bluffed.
The fact was that books were never my “thing”. I read when I had to, when I was asked to. When Daada was alive, he used to give me books as presents on all special occasions, a gesture which I considered quite inconsiderate. What would a kid of 14 years do with Hitler’s biography, whatever it was called.
“It’s quite unfortunate that you had to let these go” she said “But the brighter side is that you are leaving them in good hands. I am going to take good care of them.” She smiled and what a smile it was.
The maid brought the coffee.
I took the cups and offered one to her.
She thanked me, took a sip and jovially said. “The smell of old books, piping hot coffee, this cool breeze….if there is a heaven on earth that is here”. I couldn’t agree more, this was my heaven and she was the most beautiful angel that I had ever seen.I wanted to say something funny and searched my brain for words without success.
“Can we open this door?” She asked.
“Yeah, that’s fine”. I put my cup down and rushed to her aid. The door to the balcony was a little stiff owing to the fact that it was seldom opened. I pushed it hard and it opened with a loud bang. She stepped outside and looked around. A not so well kept, over grown garden stretched below.
Daadi was a gardening freak, all she wanted to do was to grow plants. After Daada’s death, my mom had persuaded her to move in with us. Our flat in Singapore did not have place to grow anything.But Daadi had converted our terrace and balcony into a bushy forest.There were plants every where, even on the dining table. I had more than once seen my Dad giving my Mom a “where next” kinda pathetic look every time Daadi asked for a new pot for her plants.
“I guess this was your Grandfather’s favorite spot, was it?”
How would I know, I thought? But I smiled and said”Yup, this very spot was his favorite”
“See, I could feel it” She smiled that mesmerizing smile of hers. Her teeth were perfect, I noted.
“You know what, I should have met your grandfather,we would have made great friends”
“Now that he is dead, you should try his grandson” I almost spoke aloud.
She took another sip of coffee and took a good look at the surroundings.
“How much are you expecting for the books?” She asked me.I shrugged, I had no idea what to ask.
After Daadi’s death, Dad had convinced Mom that we no longer needed this old house. The longer it is left unattended the lesser will the market value be, Dad had offered his wise opinion.My uncle, my Mom’s only brother, was also in Singapore and he couldn’t agree more.Since I was in India doing my bachelors,the responsibility of coordinating the sale fell on my head.It was not too much of work.All I did was to find a broker and tell our demands.It was on his advice that i decided to get rid of the old furnitures.”This house will look more spacey if you get rid if these Kacharas(wastes)” He had told me.
He himself gave me the number of a second hand shop.I had not bargained much and agreed to what ever price they had suggested, which I know was very far from a good bargain.
As they cleared out the other furniture, only these books remained. I would have tossed them off to the garbage without a second thought, but my mother was adamant.”Nivi, give them to some library or something.Those were Papas most priced collections” She had sniffed through the phone which was a signal that water works had already started at the other end.I had no other option but to agree.I had approached the public library, but when they couldn’t mass purchase books without completing some-god -knows-what formalities,I had looked up a lending library in the area and contacted her.
“I mean,these books were the most priced possession of Daada, so they have a special emotional value” I said and was very happy to see her look at me with admiration.For a dramatic effect I paused and looked at the garden below.”Not only the books, this house and everything associated with it.I feel great pain letting these things go, but then if they are left unattended, the ma…” I bit my tongue.Was I really going to tell her about depreciating market value.”I mean they would crumble in no time …right?”
She nodded understandingly. “So true” She responded.
“How I wish I could buy this house” She sighed.”But then I am not that rich” She grinned again.I smiled. I did not know what to do to make her more happy. It was like a live orchestra playing inside my head, or may be heart.
She spent another ten fifteen minutes casually chit chatting with me, telling how her father had left nothing but books for her and her mother.”He was an editor of this not so famous magazine” She laughed again.”It was my mothers idea to start a lending library,not that it helped much.But then she was one strong woman, my mother” I kept nodding.I wish I had a bigger deeper story to tell her. But the biggest misery that I had under gone would be something like my father cutting back on my pocket money after that really bad grades in an exam.So I shook my head, nodded and made right kinds of sounds at what I thought was the right moment.
After giving me a grand lecture on her life, she stroke a good bargain of taking those cupboards with the books as she thought the ‘books belonged in them’ and I was too eager to please her. I kept on emphasizing that I did not do this for any money and all I want was a ‘Home’ for those ‘Books’ , which I think was something quite impressive coming from a person with zero artistic taste. But she insisted on making a payment and gave me what I think was a pretty good amount for some bunch of tattered books.She told me she would arrange for someone to get those the next day. I tentatively asked for her number, she gave it without hesitating. ” See you soon” She told me and left.I could tell one thing for sure, I kept gazing in the direction she left for the next few minutes at least.
A week passed.I did call Diya once.But then I was now facing the biggest problem, the lack of a reason to call her.If I had sold her a puppy or something,I could have at least called her to ask how it was doing or if it had grown a few inches or something like that.Now books don’t grow pages or anything,right?
One evening,I was on my way for a movie. I had disposed of most of the furniture and had the whole house swept and dusted. Since , no prospective sale was looming in the vicinity, I thought I would go back to my hostel a week earlier than it was planned.The stay here was getting a little boring.I did not have many friends around, so obviously there was nothing else to do other than watching movies.
The most unexpected thing happened , she called me.My heart gave a leap. I mean, it did show that she had a teeny weeny interest in me, did it not?
I cleared my throat and jovially said” Hey Diya, what a pleasant surprise”
I heard her soft voice on the other side “Nived, are you busy now?”
Never busy for you. I thought.”I wanted to tell you something exciting, can you come here to the library?”
What could be that exciting? I thought as the auto waala took me to her house.The library and the house stood side by side. As I reached, I so her waiting for me in the front porch. “Hi” she gave me a sheepish smile. My heart was hammering inside me. I smiled and muttered a “Nice to see you” and bravely added “You are looking gorgeous”
Her smile did widen and she invited me inside. She signaled me towards a table, few books lay scattered on it.
“See” she showed me those books. I looked at them, puzzled.
“These are books of Mythili Krishna.”
“Oh, great” I told her, still baffled.
“You know her right, she was one of the best English writer of India. Her books were nominated for the Booker prize twice”
“Okay….” I clearly couldn’t put two and two together.
“These are her books that I found in your grandfather’s collection”
I looked at her questioningly, why did she have to call me all the way here to tell me something as stupid as this? I mean who cares!
“These are not ordinary books” She continued.
Oh great, so did they have a tail or something?
“These were personally signed by the author, and each of this has a personal message in it”
May be this Mythili, who ever she was, was a friend or something of my grandfather.I thought.
“And….” she paused.
“To me it looked like a message exchanged between two lovers…..why don’t you take a look”
I was quite surprised.
“See this one, I believe it was written somewhere in the seventies”
I looked at the brief message sprawled on the first page of the book.It said.
” Loneliness had never been so intimidating. What I wish for is a forbidden luxury, I very well know that. But still, when I watch the sun set all alone from my balcony, I wish you were here with me. ”
I was bowled over. This woman, a great writer or something, was in love with Daada?
Somehow I felt it very funny as I recollected his nasty mustache and weird hairstyle.
She showed me the other messages. Some where longer, some as small as one sentence.It clearly showed that they were involved in a “romantic ” relationship. The last book was as recent as three years ago, it said “Our story, at last.I know you did not want this to be written.I myself don’t know if I was able to etch the purity of our relation into this. But I had to write this. I just had to”
I looked at her. “you read it?” I asked. She nodded excitedly.”I have read it before.It is the greatest work of Mythili”
I was still trying to process my thoughts when something hit me. I turned the pages to where the message was written. The date below her sign told me that she had sent this in June. That was good four months after Daada’s death.
“So…who would have received this package?” Diya asked me. Daadi, I thought. She had insisted in staying back at the house initially. It was not until the next four months that she finally agreed to move in with us. So…did she realize about this “Other woman” in her life after her husband’s death.Was that what persuaded her to leave the shrine of her life at last? How much did it hurt her?My heart went out to her.I felt a warmth of sympathy towards my Daadi, who was one devoted wife, whose whole world was her family.
“Do you want to read the book?” Diya asked me earnestly.
I paused for a moment. Did I want to know?
Then I told her “You tell me the story….May be we can go to a place with a better ambiance, beach?”
She smiled and agreed. As we walked towards the beach and I felt her hands brushing against mine, I wondered sheepishly if that one old love story of my Daada was something that had a bigger purpose, like helping me find my soul mate.
his was written as a part of Write Tribe Wednesday prompt –The smell of old books