Sunday, November 13, 2011

Of Book Inscriptions

Hermann Hesse's book "Klingsor's Last Summer" found its way onto my bookshelf from I know not where. On the front pages is this inscription:
                   "My dear R. Ralte,
                             This is for my beloved.
                                        Jerry Pautu
                                         Dt: 12/3/70
                    P.S. Oh, I know it's your birthday!!"

I find myself going back again and again to that inscription, imagining who R. Ralte and Jerry (I think. The signature is almost unintelligible) are- whether they got married and had kids, and then grandchildren. I fantasise about meeting their children, and then through them, giving them back this book which carried with it a fragment of their love and their youth.

My favourite book till date is Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". It was first loaned to me by a classmate when I was in Class XI. It was the inscription on the book that first caught my attention. I still remember it.
                             Such a little name for such a person.
                                                                      Nongrim Hills"
"Those were my parents. They're still very sickeningly in love", my classmate told me. I was enchanted that her dad quoted those lines from "Little Women" that made me fall so in love with Prof. Bhaer. I harboured romantic illusions about how he would look like - academic looking, graying hair, wearing glasses, twinkling eyes etc- but when I finally met him, he turned out to be a small, pot bellied man with kwai-stained teeth. Still, even after I've forgotten my classmate's name, I still remember her parents' names and their being so "very sickeningly in love" because of that inscription.

Then there was that Stephen King Compilation I received from "Santa", with the words
                                                            "Merry Christmas, Kuku! Happy reading!
                                                                                    Santa Claus"
Santa's handwriting, by the way, is exactly like my mom's. My parents established a tradition that we would "dawh thla" until we got married, all five of us girls. Christmas mornings were, therefore, something that we always looked forward to. Amidst the pile of potatoes, ladles, nails, soaps and vegetables  that they threw in as a joke, my parents would include a small amount of money and one treasured item. Alas, we got married later than they expected, I suppose, because they have stopped that tradition about eight years ago.

This collection is one of the last gifts I received from "Santa". It was lost for a while, and then I saw it in some private library. I borrowed it, and then I never went back.

This year I received F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is The Night" from an old friend. She had written
                                    Happy Birthday, Kukui
                                           To the awesomest girl in the whole wide universe".
A debatable claim, surely! But one which made me laugh out loud, and also made me feel super great. Thank you for saying that, my old friend. There is so much to be said about our friendship that I don't know where to start, and once I started, I would now know when or where to end. You'll always hold a special place in my heart.
And then there is Anne Rice's "Servant of the Bones", gifted to me by my boyfriend. We used to be pretty broke, then, and on gift-giving occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, we would have to save up for months at a time. This was before we both had jobs, and he didn't have his bike, and he lived so far away. So we had to pool whatever money we had to even pay for his daily bus fare to my place (we felt that we HAD to see each other everyday). On the occasions that we went out, we would sometimes visit friends' places for free lunches, heh. We never felt poor then, it was actually pretty fun to come up with ways to have fun without spending money. When he landed a part time job and he got his first paycheck, he rushed over to show me the money, and though his pay was meager at the time, we both felt really, really rich.
This book fair coincided with him receiving his pay, and there he bought me the book. And on the first page, he wrote
                                - Z"
Just that. Nothing more. And one day if ever the book lands up in someone's bookshelf, and they see that inscription, maybe they'll just flip through it, never knowing not caring the amount of optimism and hope contained in those two words.

And therein lies the romance of book inscriptions- for the stories they contain and which are almost as intriguing as the stories in the books themselves.