My father was the most voracious reader that I have met or heard about. Our house always had shelves full of books and my earliest memories of him are with a cigarette and a book in hand. My mother always cribbed – she definitely was not a reader. She was not sympathetic about part of his meager (and meager it was in those days) earnings being ‘squandered’ on books. But, her cribbing never deterred him….. And in his mind I was the logical inheritor of this treasure.
A year and a half after his death, my mother moved form Bangalore to Chennai. During that period, I made as many trips to Bangalore as I could manage as my mother was alone after 47 years of marriage. And during those trips, I went through all his books, and realized what wide and varying interests he had. There was poetry and classics (mostly from his earlier days), fiction of every kind, plenty of history and biographies (a genre he had a real weakness for) and stowed away in the back shelves, a collection of pornography. It was clear that the flat my mother was planning to move into in Chennai, could not house all these books. So, I started weeding out the really trashy stuff. During this process I came across a black single lined note book and realized that it was a list of books he had read
He was an extremely methodical man, and the book is a true reflection of his personality. It had entries for every month from February 1978 to April 1992, a total of 1586 titles over 15 years, averaging over 100 a year. The number varied from a low of 64 in 1981 to 179 in 1987 with more than 20 in many months.
I can be certain that every book he read was recorded. I can’t even describe the range of his reading. But, the pattern of the numbers reveal the story of his life through those years. Although he had always been an avid reader, I cannot understand why he chose to start this record in the second month of 1978. The monthly pattern was broken only in some years, when entries for 2-3 months were made together. The first was in 1979, which shows 18 books for the period July to November. From July to September of that year, my parents came to USA to visit me with my daughter who I had left with them. He was really unwell during the latter pat of this trip and probably did not read much. Other such merged entries, coincide with the visits my parents made to my brother Gopal, who was settled in the Netherlands or to me in Lucknow after 1987.
There are only a few periods when there are no entries at all and these reflect the crisis points in his life. The longest gap of 4 months is in the latter half of 1981, when he became an victim of some political game-manship between his employers (he was consultant with a private firm) and the political bigwigs!!! That period was like a nightmare for all of us!!! I am surprised to see that during his coronary bypass time in 1986 ( a time when it was still a new procedure in India) there is only a gap of one month. The other gaps I am not able to fit in, but I assume they must be associated to periods of low health.
And then the entries stop with 18 books in April 1992, the month that he was diagnosed with a malignant lymphoma. He came to us in Lucknow for his chemotherapy, to which he did not respond. I vividly remember taking him to the British Council to get books after the first cycle. But subsequently, it became increasingly clear that he was not responding and his health was failing. The last few weeks of his life, in June and July of 1992, are the only times I remember him ever, without a book by his bedside and opting to spend hours talking to each of us , my mother, Subhash, Mukta, me, rather than read a book!