I have these dreams. These recurring dreams. Fascinating they are I tell you. In them, I (or a very young version of me to be precise) am walking through a deserted school corridor; looking in wonder at the glass almirahs near me. Why in wonder you ask? Because those gleaming cases have books in them! Books of all kind – comics, classics, children books et al. Books of all shapes and sizes. And what’s more, there is not a soul around me. Just me and those books.
They are nice dreams really. The kinds which you don’t want to wake up from. Unfortunately, you have to.
These dreams have, for some reason, started appearing more frequently of late. Almost always they follow the same pattern. The same old corridors. The same almirahs. The same stacks of books. Sometimes these dreams feel so eerily real; as if I am right there; feeling the pages of those books, inhaling their smell and surrendering myself to their magic.
Perhaps there is a reason to all this. Perhaps it is to remind me that this was the place where my love for books began. Those library periods, in more ways than one, stoked the passion for books in me.
I remember that as a child, I used to eye the books on the shelves of those almirahs quite greedily. And this was even before I had started reading books properly. Those days, we didn’t have any library periods; we were considered too young for it. Hence, I would longingly ache to hold the books inside those shelves as I would pass them every day along the corridors of my school. The books would be neatly arranged inside the shiny glass shelves; enticing me to open and read them. I did not get that opportunity for quite some time.
Things changed when I entered the 3rd standard. This was the first year from where we were allowed to have official library periods. All that there was in its name, though, was a solitary cabinet; stationed right in the front of the class, next to the doors. It had four shelves filled with several books and that was more than sufficient for me. My excitement knew no bounds when I had first seen the almirah and when the class teacher announced that our library periods had been scheduled for the last period of every Saturday.
Ever since that, every Saturday would be my best day in school. Often the wait for the last period of Saturday would make me absolutely restless and anxious. Throughout the week, I would peer at the closed shelves of the almirah and try and see what new titles had been added to it. This was the first time I was introduced to the world of Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, Tintin, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, R.L. Stevenson and myriad other trove of gems. That these library periods fell on the last class of the week made them extra special. The pressure and tension of the entire week would be at its end by then and a beautiful Sunday would be eagerly awaited. I remember taking my precious selection of books and feeling absolutely elated about it. I would often browse through them during the way back home in the school bus even amidst the crazy din around me. The thought that I would get to read the books before I went to sleep, for as long as I wanted to, and have no stress about the next day, is a feeling that is hard to put into words. It is something which I yearn to feel and experience again.
There was an incident during this phase which sort of epitomizes my love for the library classes. It happened whilst I was in the 3rd standard and remains, to this date, an indelible memory.
On one of the Mondays, while entering the classroom, I, out of habit, looked over at the library cabinet. My eyes immediately fell on a particular book; hardbound, sparkling yellow in color and bearing the title ‘Stories from the Panchatantra’. The front cover of the book featured a monkey and a crocodile; the monkey atop a tree looking down at the crocodile, half-immersed in a lake, with a mischievous smile. Something stirred inside me as I looked at the book. Something told me that I really, really wanted it. I immediately went up to my best friend, Saket, and informed him about my desire to get hold of that book. Throughout that week, all that was on my mind was the book. I would keep talking about it during lunch breaks, inside the school bus and even at home to my mother. I would think about it before going to sleep and during classes; picturizing myself holding the book and leafing through its contents with utter glee. The book had totally consumed me.
At long last, Saturday came. I waited restlessly for all the periods to end; they were just a blur that day. And then, the moment finally arrived. The almirah was opened and several of the books were laid out on the front desk; including the one I had been eyeing. We were given books sequence wise then; each student was called out by their roll-number and was then allowed to choose the book of their liking. My roll number was 3 and I was sitting on the second bench from the front. As the student before me was called out, I stood up; not being able to contain my excitement anymore. Saket, meanwhile, was rubbing my shoulders; egging me on. My eyes fixed on the book, I suddenly noticed that Ankan, the student before me, picked it up. He looked at it for a brief moment and then went to the teacher to get it approved. It felt as though someone had snuffed out my lungs. I dropped down on my chair, not knowing what to do. And before I knew it, I burst out crying. I bawled like a baby whose candy had been forcibly taken away from him. Everyone turned at me, shocked at what was happening. Saket, probably stunned himself, explained to the teacher the reason of my outburst while I quietly sobbed with my head down. The teacher then – God bless her – requested Ankan to let me have the book. He just shrugged and then handed it over to me. Shaken and stirred and still sniffing quietly, I finally held the coveted book in my hands. I did not care then that the entire class was snickering behind my back. I did not care what the consequences of this incident were likely to be among my friends. All I cared about then was that book in my hands. The book that I had waited the entire week for. That night, before going to sleep, I kept the book near my bedside after having gone through a couple of delightful chapters in it. I also woke up in the middle of the night quite a few times, just to check if the monkey and the crocodile were still there, and if all of this was not just a dream.
When I look back at this episode, I do feel a tad embarrassed at times and laugh at my silliness. But that particular feeling, which I felt during that week, has never really left me. In the years that followed, my love for library classes steadily grew. It blossomed and matured but the passion and excitement for them never dimmed. One book after the other found special place in my heart and I discovered umpteen wonderful gems to treasure.
In our secondary section, we had a proper library room. It was quite sizable and filled with innumerable books of varied kind. Titles like Goosebumps, Animorphs, Harry Potter, Hardy Boys, Archies, and authors like Willard Price, Michael Crichton, and Charles Dickens, among a host of others, were uncovered here. I remember sitting right at the corner of the library room, and reading my books quietly while my classmates – all annoying little pricks now – deriding me for wasting my time and not joining in on the frolic with them in the only ‘free period’ they had. But I ignored them. I just loved my special corner; and till the end of my school days I ensured that it remained solely mine.
When I passed out from school, there were plenty of things that I missed: my friends, many teachers, and the oodles of fun moments I had there. But perhaps, without even realizing it, the one thing that I missed the most about school was those library periods. After school, I felt a tad lost when it came to books. I had no particular place to go to where I could just sit and relax and be surrounded with that incomparable smell of books; new and old.
Today, I get books easily. By the tips of my fingers, I have ordered countless of books over the last few years. Despite that, though, something is missing. The charm of getting the books from the shelves of my school’s library and reading them at night at home is irreplaceable. The craze of waiting for the library periods through the week and the thrill I experienced while looking at the sea of books in front of me is something which I will, sadly, never feel again. Those library periods will, hence, constitute an integral portion of my life, of my precious memories, which are now deeply embedded in my soul. They encompass such a massive and paramount part of my childhood that I have never been able to let them go. And that, perhaps, is the reason that they still reach out to me, in different ways. I hope they always do.
I am glad that I wrote this down. It helped me siphon off some of the feelings that had been brewing inside me of late. Tonight, I will go to sleep in peace. In the hope that I will meet those library books in my dreams again. And who knows, when I wake up in the middle of the night one of these days, I will still find a gleaming yellow book near my bedside; a monkey and a crocodile smiling up at me from it.