Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Lament Of An Old Textbook

             The Lament Of An Old Textbook

"I still remember the day I came to life. Yeah..I know it's weird to remember that. But we do. All of us books do. I can still remember the soothing splash of words on each of my pages. And the tug when I was bound by a cover page. It was a tender tug - not the rough one like the one for those hardbacks. I mean..I sure understand why they are valued and collected now. Perhaps I was never meant to be one.

Being a Chemistry textbook is not easy. And being a Chemistry textbook across owners  - is nothing short of an ordeal. I still remember those younger days of mine. The way I sat on a bookshelf in a posh bookstore along with hundreds of my siblings. We were the first textbooks of a new syllabus - and boy! Didn't we get the attention! Our father - the writer - was particularly popular in academia and we were reaping the rewards. We were literally flying off the shelves and even before I could thoroughly bask in the attention, I was picked up by a young boy. The first thing I noticed about him was his gold rimmed glasses. One look at him and I was sure he was what we in our world called "The Geek". "You'll have sleepless nights!"one of my siblings called out, as I was thrust into a polythene and carried to his home.

Sleepless nights it was indeed. I was stacked in between his Maths and Physics textbooks. I still remember the sensation when he wrote his name on my first page. It was a proud feeling. I had found an owner at last! It is the moment all of us textbooks wait for. A sort of coming of age for us. He then took me in his arms and smelled me. That was weird....but it was kind of -for want of a better word - cute. I knew I smelled fresh and am sure he liked it. 

But then the rigor started. He was a Geek and spared no effort to master my contents. Soon, my pages were strewn with scrawls and side notes. There was underlining with a pencil. And then there was highlighting. I enjoyed the attention at first. But got tiring along the way. I figured he never enjoyed Maths or Physics and particularly enjoyed Chemistry. Which meant it was hardwork for me. I would be the first one to get up in the morning and the last one to sleep at night. My pages started fading. And I no longer appreciated being scrawled all over the place. It didn't help that my pages had so many incomprehensible equations. This meant there was more scrawling and side-notes. Over time, he spent a particularly long time on those pages with equations that I lost interest too.

I started wondering if the world was this mundane after all. I was bought by a Geek. He used me and mastered my contents. What after that? It was a stalemate. I would forever be a book of incomprehensible equations. I hated it when the lights were switched on in the morning. And because his exams were closing in, I didn't get proper sleep in the night as well. The Maths and Physics textbooks chuckled as I returned to the stack late in the night. They envied the attention I got initially. But now, the tables had turned. I'd give anything for the extra hour of sleep they got.

The day he finished his Chemistry exams, I slept peacefully for a whole day. I wasn't disturbed for a month after that - when the results were announced.  He topped his college in chemistry ofcourse. I'll forever remember the special pride with which he looked at me that day. The Maths and Physics books got none of it. I must say I was proud of my owner that day and of myself too. It is what we set out to do as books. Give the owner the knowledge we endeavour to and make this world a better place to live. 

I was ruminating about these larger philosophies of life when I was hurriedly removed from the shelf .The next thing I remember is a sharp thud on the ground that hurt every inch of me. Then the haggling ensued. And then reality hit me. I was being sold to a seconds vendor. This was probably the hardest moment of my life. My self esteem took a beating. I had looked up to the owner - inspite of all the difficulties I faced with him. He had given my life a meaning. But here he was - selling me at less than half the price without a sense of attachment. 


The seconds shop lacked the class of the book store. We were commodities here. I met a lot of my siblings who had their own stories to share. There was space constraint and dust accumulated quickly on my covers. The shop owner dusted us nonchalantly and it made me sick. More than the environment, it was my state. I kept brooding. My siblings tried to cheer me up saying it is a part of life. But I always felt I had a higher purpose than a second hand shop. May be a university library! There I'd be an object who'd command respect. I'd feel treasured and valued. 

I never thought she would choose me. I mean, a number of good looking girls had visited the seconds shop. But no one particularly showed interest in my siblings or me. So it was surprising when her smooth fingers ran through my pages. I felt invigorated. I quite liked her touch. Without hoping too much, I hoped she'd buy me -for once I didn't bother about the price - and lo! she did! I can never forget how cosy I felt as she held me to her bosom and walked all the way home.

In the next two weeks, I regained most of my lost fervour. It was sheer joy to be woken up by her tender fingers every morning. And she would just stare at me for a whole half hour before putting me back in the shelf. There was no scrawling or highlighting. Occasionally, she would doodle an abstract image on one of my pages and that was it. The other textbooks received similar treatment and I must say we were all happy.

As time passed, she started scribbling a name on my pages. And then she would spend a long time just looking at it. Sometimes with joy; sometimes with longing; sometimes with sheer frustration and hope. I could never make out whose name it was until she took me to college one day. She showed the pages to a guy. I then realised that it was his name on my pages all the while. Ofcourse, Chemistry could mean different things to different people! From then on, I made that trip to college often. Messages of love were scribbled on my pages and passed between the guy and my owner. It felt weird to play Cupid in this age of smartphones. But again - I enjoyed a position that none of my siblings would! 

Over time, I realised she never had the academic interest of my previous owner. The Chemistry text for her meant a storehouse of her guy's handwriting and words. She was a queer romantic that way. She would come back home and spend hours looking at his handwriting. She would smile at those messages. I was obviously unhappy because being a romantic conduit between two young lovers was never part of my life purpose. As the exam season started, I went back to thinking of my previous owner who made optimum use of me. I felt I belonged in such circumstances.

Then one day, she came back home and pulled me out of the bookshelf with a force I had never experienced. She started tearing out pages with his name and handwriting (which was practically half the book!). I feared the worst. Somehow better sense prevailed and she took to tediously scratching out all the messages. It was painful to see so many scratches being made on my pages that day. But even more painful to see her pale face. As tears streamed down her cheeks and a couple of drops fell on my pages, I felt eternal sympathy for her. The love story had ended before it had blossomed.

She never took her Chemistry exam seriously. She pulled me out of the shelf a couple of times before the exam and crammed into her mind whatever she could. Scribbled a bit here and there. I didn't mind it as I knew my journey with her was coming to an end. Once exams ended, I hoped she would hold me to her bosom and take me to the seconds shop. It was not to be. I was bundled with other textbooks and her Father dropped me off at a seconds shop. She was not even there to see me off. Perhaps I reminded her of a lot of things she wanted to forget.

My second stint at the seconds shop was longer than the first. My pages were now faded. As a book I was two academic years old, which meant a syllabus change was due in the next couple of years. I'd be rendered obsolete and die a natural death. The innumerable notes and scratched love messages that I inherited from my previous owners didn't help my cause either. They sure enhanced my appeal with my siblings I met at the shop though. I now had two different stories to tell them. And the storyteller that I was, I always used my skills of weaving a narrative to keep them hooked. It helped that not many books there had been to two owners. I was respected. But the flipside was I had very few takers now. 

My University Library dreams still lingered on. But from where I was, it was difficult to be picked up by a librarian. After a couple of months, life definitely got boring. My siblings eventually got tired of my stories and I longed to be picked up by someone - anyone.

This was the time my current owner entered my life. He dragged me out of the shelf in a tearing hurry and left the seconds shop. I was rather excited as I travelled home on his bike. There was plenty of hope that this owner was like my first one - an academic who wanted to consume the immense knowledge hidden in my pages.

How wrong I was! He brought me home and dumped me in his cupboard with the same force he had dragged me out. And then he left. Days passed. There was no sign of him. The darkness of the shelf was tiring me out. The closed space suffocated me and all other books. But the owner was not to be seen. My strength left me and I could sense old age. The pages seemed strained and the cover weak. I silently noticed as the ink started fading in a few pages. And then the worst happened. Dust started accumulating. Darkness and moisture bred termites and cockroaches. I felt terrible as the cockroaches crawled on my cover. I was never meant for this. I pined in pain and prayed to see the light of day again. 

And as though answering my prayers, I was dragged out of the shelf one day. It was forceful, but I felt happy that I was atleast seeing light again. But something was wrong with the owner. He reeked of alcohol. Even as he tried to read from a couple of my pages, I found the stench intolerable. His eyes could never focus. I found his attempt to concentrate laborious. And within a while, the inevitable happened. His face fell in between pages 362-363. And in poetic coincidence, the pages described ethanol and its properties. 

And as he dozes off on my pages, drooling, I felt it apt to narrate my story. Well, I could have always moved from Geek to Geek, who would revere me till their course ended and then drop me off at a seconds shop with indifference. But then, destiny had plenty else planned for me. The girl would have treasured me and I'd be family heirloom if her love had blossomed. But I would have been stuck with her forever. My current owner...well...I'd first hope he clears the drool off from my pages before I think of anything else!"

                                                                                           - 28th August 2016, Sunday

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Father, Son and Matters of Money

Father, Son and Matters of Money

"Done" I said, as my father sat mesmerised. He even received a message saying the transaction was complete. Only, he wasn't convinced by the exercise. He didn't feel the satisfaction of transferring money and helping his son who was in dire need. 
"Something is missing" he kept mumbling. Always.
Not that he is technology averse. But he is someone who still believes in walking the couple of miles to pay out an electricity bill at the counter. The sense of purpose he derives in setting up a separate day for paying these bills, the responsibility of  "handling cash" and the subsequent sweat and satisfaction once he successfully pays those bills and returns home - he misses them with the onset of technology.

"If you can transfer money with the click of a button, where is the value?" he wonders. And somewhere, I connect with him. Cash. The clinking of coins in the piggy bank. Or the thrill when father brought his month's salary home in a white envelope and asked us to separate the five hundreds from the hundreds and the hundreds from the tens - home felt like RBI. Mother would invariably decide how much went where - some notes into the steel container with rice, some into the wardrobe, some more into a secret corner under the cot(I assume this was the sacrosanct emergency fund). We brothers would eagerly wait for a tenner or two(depending on her mood and our behaviour) and drop it into the piggy bank.

Now, all we have got is an abstraction. Or at most, a statement. Instead of the white envelope, my father gets his payslip home. There is an excitement in his voice when he announces the figure - but he misses the envelope. However, we are a generation where our salaries are being credited to an account from the word go. We have plastic cards that melt money in a swipe. I sometimes wonder if what my father tells is actually true. The effort is the same - be it a hundred rupees or a thousand for that matter. I swipe, and the money is gone forever from the account! And in a curious way, there is a sense of detachment - I do not know how the thousand looks like or feels like. It is just a number. All too simple. A decade ago, for my father, a thousand was probably a few hundreds, a couple of fifties and twenties and tenners. The twenties and tenners were probably more valuable than the hundreds - they were results of continuous haggling with the vegetable vendor or the kirana store owner. And to part with it was an emotional loss along with the obvious monetary loss as well.

Online banking, mobile banking, wallets and related applications make our lives terribly simple and relegate paper money into the background. While we revel in the ease of transactions, father still remains skeptic. His debit card pin remains carefully hidden in his shirt pocket, on a soiled piece of paper that has existed forever now. We have never been able to convince him to adopt net banking. He religiously makes that bank visit once every two months to get his passbook updated. While I put it to a certain inertia in embracing technology, I can't help but feel there is an attachment with the bank and its people that he cannot forgo.
"My account has been with the bank for thirty years now" he says proudly. He knows quite a few people there - from the manager to the clerk. "And I never find the bank visit tiresome. You have to work hard to manage money." It is quite a sight to watch him analyse the bank statements in the passbook and match them with his own monthly expense chart  - which is usually a piece of paper. Though we are better off than we were a couple of decades ago when this practice actually started, father carries this exercise on with fervor, a passion bordering on obsession. "It is because of this discipline I was able to afford your education without a loan" he declares, the pride evident everytime. I try to coax him to use one of those money management applications or atleast a spreadsheet, but he hears none of it.

The dissonance doesn't end there. While I find myself browsing every available option to invest and grow my money - from stocks to mutual funds to what not, father finds peace in depositing them in the bank. "Why the risk? You should always play safe with money" he suggests. I candidly admit to him that I want to be rich overnight and retire at forty. And then he starts off...with what is to be gained by working for those extra twenty years.

Through all this, I manage to hold my father in awe by showing how efficient I am when I pay bills through one of those mobile wallets, getting a handsome discount along the way. But my show ends there. It is always him that wins the conversation, with stories of long lost relatives who slept on mattresses whose insides were stashed with cash!