A BOOKISH TOPIC By R. K. Narayan My blackest thoughts are reserved for those who borrow my books. I am unable to forgive a man who fails to return a book he has taken from my shelf. I would not hesitate to tell him precisely what I thought of him, if he would only give me a chance to speak, but as a general rule the book pirate shows no inclination to continue his friendship with me; he stoops besides his hedge and remains still until I have safely passed his gate : if he meets me on the road face to face he doubles his pace with an air of one going desperately in search of doctor.
It is a matter of life and death to someone, and he has no time to engage himself in any conversation centering round some miserable book in a weak moment. This is the worst of the book pirate. He begins to feel that it was due to some weakness that he ever entertained the idea perusing such and such a book, while a busy man like him could find no time even to read his(neighbour’s) newspaper fully. Later it developes it develops into an aversion both for the book and the man who lent him it. For a few days he keeps saying, “ I have not yet read it, but I’d like to, if I may . And the lender of the book , ever a generous brood, says, “Oh yes, by all means keep it. You have kept it so long, it would be pointless if you returned it without going through it keep it, keep it”. At the next meeting the lender feels delicate to ask again about the book. A few months pass and then a happy new year and another happy one, and suddenly you realize that the gap in your bookshelf is still there. And then one day you abruptly begin the meeting with: ‘Where is the book? ’ ‘Which book? ’ asks the gentleman. When you have succeeded in stimulating his memory, he only says,’ oh, that! I will have to search for it.
Naturally you don’t like the tone, and say: ‘well, why not search now? ’. Your instinct now tells you will never see you book. You will feel that you are now seeing humanity at its worst. Words fail you. You cannot trust yourself further and you go away. At the next meeting the man says brazenly, with an air of condescending to give a thought to your subject : ‘I’ve not found your book. I was out of town for a while on business . I believe it must be with my brother-in-law. You know my brother-in-law? ’ ‘I don’t. Why don’t you get it back from him? ’ ‘ I will, I will ,certainly ,’ he replies mechanically. Or I will myself go and and beg him to return it, where is he? ’ ‘That’s what I must find out. He has been a tour. ’ ‘Why not send him a letter ? I will bear the postal expenses. ’ ‘Oh, letters are not good; he is a very bad correspondent. ’ The whereabouts of the book, you feel, are already trailing away into indefiniteness. At the next meeting- the gentleman goes behind his hedge and disowns you completely. It is under this condition you became a misanthrope, and ask why it is that you cannot complain to the police about the loss of your book. In a more perfectly arranged world, it should be possible.
At the next election, my vote goes to the party which pledges itself to eliminate (along with illiteracy, poverty and disease) book-borrowing from our society. I am scrutinizing every manifesto and party programme for this possible promise. All of us love to keep our books, and also share the delight of good reading with others. This is an impossible combination and turns out to be a painful experiment. If u love your book, don’t lend it to anyone on earth. This really ought to be one’s guiding principle. You cannot lend your books and yet have them just as you cannot your cake and have it. I know only one person who has achieved both.
He lends book and yet retains his library in shape. He has an elaborately built up library at home, and he is most enthusiastic in lending out books- provided the borrower, even if he happens to be his son-in-law, signs a ledger and returns the book on the proper date. He levies a fine of six pies per day if the book is held over beyond the due date and he ruthlessly demands replacement of ant book that’s lost. If he should be told : ‘My brother-in-law must have taken it and I dnt know where he is, ‘he would have replied: ‘Surely you wouldn’t have allowed your brother-in-law to walk with one of chairs, coats or spoons.
How dare anyone think that he can be as irresponsible as he likes where a book is concerned? Don’t tell me about your brother-in-law. ‘I am interested only in my books. It costs nine rupees plus postage. Write at once to so and so, booksellers. ’ This book lover has been called rude, pugnacious, pretty minded, and so forth. But it does not bother him. He knows where his favourite volumes are to be found at any given moment. As an author my problem is a little more complicated. I have(or rather try to have), in my shelf, not only books written by others but also those written by me.
An author may be pardoned if he likes to have his own books, too, in his library. It may not at all be vanity. He may have to work further on it for a subsequent edition or he may value it for being the first copy to arrive from his publishers. A publisher gives only six copies for presentation when a books come out. While I am prepared to scatter five abroad I like to be free to keep the sixth. But where is it? Whenever I wish to see any of my own books for any purpose, I borrow it from a library. I wish others would also do the same thing instead of asking complacently, ‘Why should an author want his own books ? ’