The book house

I don’t particularly like work. Work on a Saturday, I detest even more. If that theory held good, yesterday should’ve been a day I detested. I, however, ended up enjoying myself very much indeed. I made the trip to the book house.

I had not, in all honesty, done too much work on my 8 week long internship and well, when it is coming to an end, one must work, what? Unfortunately, yes. That was the premise of why I was working on Saturday.

I had to do some groups as part of the project I was working on; market research and all that. I made my way to this house which was the venue. I entered and there was a large sitting room, a dining room, a kitchen and a couple of rooms on one side. There was one small passageway leading into a huge drawing room on the other. I went into the drawing room and instinctively looked up.

There were bookshelves everywhere! Wow! There were old leather-bound volumes of encyclopedias and whatnot. Immediately, my eyes that have been so attuned to the single minded pursuit of one thing and one thing only, started the scan. And what I found led to the old jaw dropping. Oh good God! Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, in all his glory. There were about forty titles, some of them I had never heard of let alone seen anywhere at all.

I had some initial set-up work to do and this, I did hurriedly. Now, I did not really know if it was right to go and talk to the people who owned the house for we were only there on a temporary basis and I did not really know what the protocol was re interacting with the house owners. I peeped from the hall. I looked at the books again. I did not dare touch the books. I peeped again. Still unsure of whether I ought to go ask the owner about it, I mustered up the courage, so to speak.

He was putting on his shoes, evidently to go out.

‘Excuse me sir but would you mind if I took a look at those books? There are some there that are out of print and are absolutely treasures and I would like to see them.’

You have read that? Now imagine taping that and playing it back at 1.5x speed. That was how fast I was talking.

He looked at me, perplexed. Fortunately, his wife seemed to understand what I said and said, ‘yes. No problem. But only seeing, eh?’

‘Yes ma’am.’

I hurried off and slid the glass door and started looking. Well, if you could ever use the word ogle with books, well, I was pretty much doing just that. And then he came in.

‘What are you looking at?’ he asked.

‘Wodehouse, sir.’

Notice who holds the copyright in 1970.

‘Oh! You like Wodehouse, is it? I have 72 out of the ninety odd titles.’

Words did not really come out but I think I managed an ‘oh!’

An edition I did not know existed and a title I had never seen in print

‘Have you read other English authors as well? Because my collection is predominantly English.’

‘Like Tom Sharpe, sir?’

‘Bah!’ In that one word, he dismissed him. Easy as that. He reeled off another few names but I had not really heard of any of them. ‘Yes, I have the Herbert-Jenkins collection as well,’ he said. I had no idea what he was talking about. He pointed to the shelf. If one’s eyes can grow bigger that one could possibly imagine, it would not be wrong to say that mine did.

There was a whole row of neatly stacked, almost nondescript, hardbound editions with no paper jackets on them. They had the Herbert-Jenkins crest on then and lettering in gold that was faded over time but what must have been brilliant and lustrous once upon a time. The lettering was, of course, the name of the titles.

Herbert Jenkins edition. Bought in 1950.

I picked one up, almost too scared to damage it, however slightly. The book was in fantastic condition; well, as fantastic as a book that was 62 years old can be. I was mesmerized. He looked at me and decided that the time had come to go off on the errand he was running until I interrupted him.

The inside of the book.

So as the day wore on, I stole time away between sessions of work and even during sessions to go talk to sir and ma’am. He is an utterly fascinating man and to write about all that we talked about would be rambling on a little too much.

One incident, however, I must quote. He was telling me about his grandfather being the Diwan of Mysore and from there it veered into Indian history and somehow I brought up Ram Guha.

‘One of my favourite authors is a Bangalorean, sir; Ramachandra Guha.’

‘Ah! Of course, Ram Guha.’

‘If you’re interested in cricket…’

‘What do you mean, by are you interested in cricket? I played for Karnataka. I still draw a pension from them.’ There was no scorn. It was only a kids-these-days look.

‘I… I did not know, sir,’ I bumbled, most apologetically and red-faced.

He smiled and walked off. I thought I had ticked him off. Apparently, it was nothing of the sort. He just went to do some work. He did come back after a while and said, ‘you were saying something about Guha?’

‘Yes sir. He wrote a wonderful book on Indian cricket. You must read it.’

‘Yes. He is primarily a cricket historian.’

‘Well, sir, I met him once and he said that he would not really write too much about cricket any more. He said that there were more interesting things to write about.’

He laughed.

I did talk to him and his wife about a whole lot of stuff and it was very very fascinating, to say the least. There was an old TV in the sitting room. Apparently, the TV was bought before the 1983 world cup and they have watched the 1983 and the 2011 final on the same TV. Whatay!

Among the other treasures, there is also a whole set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica published in the year 1911. A set of books that are a hundred and one years old. Holy cow!

The encyclopedia Britannica. 1911.

And so, it was time to go. I went to say goodbye. Mr. Sadashivan was out. I spoke to ma’am.

‘Thank you for everything ma’am. I have taken pictures and I am sure I am going to be the envy of a few people. Thanks for the coffee as well.’

I turned to leave and then turned back.

‘If you ever ever decide to give those books away, please do let me know first.’

‘Hahaha! As long as he is there, he will never let even a paper go out of the house.’

‘I know that, ma’am and I don’t expect to get anything any time soon but if ever, please do let me know.’

‘But how will I contact you?’

My contact details are now safely lodged with them. I will, hopefully, have right of first refusal on those books. Not a bad day’s work, what?

P.S ‘This house is, in your market research parlance, called the book house. It is quite a popular venue for conducting groups/interviews etc.’, she said to me very early on in the day. The name is apt, I think.

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