On my shelf is a small book about 5 inches square. It has a brown paper cover with my name on the paper cover. I can’t remember who covered it–me or my brother. Until a few years ago, its binding was as strong as the day it must have come freshly out of the bookseller’s box. It’s Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, an anthology of poems.
I remember when I was twelve or thirteen years old it was my companion in the long summer afternoons when I came back from school and the house was quiet when everyone was taking their afternoon siesta. It must have been one of those afternoons when I discovered this book amongst my father’s books on the bookshelf.
I would station myself in a half-reclining position on the bed, propped up by lots of pillows, with a guava in the perfect stage of ripeness (or rawness–dasha–can’t think of a corresponding English word) and this book.
What I mostly read in the book were the lyrical poems by the British Romantics and the Victorians. Wordsworth’s apparent simplicity, Keats’ melancholy and Shelley’s passion appealed to my young mind without the necessity of delving too deep.
Later, my afternoon reads were somewhat replaced by second-hand store bought cheap romance novels which I devoured with an equal passion and which influenced my own writing, for better or for worse. I think those rather indiscriminate readings influenced who I grew up to become–neither highbrow nor lowbrow but maybe a little bit of both. (Much later, I learnt that Palgrave’s taste and the subsequent authoritarian status of this anthology for a long time was to be considered highly suspect, even hated, but I was blissfully unaware of any of this propped up next to my window watching the trains pass by and reading my book)
There were two yellowed pieces of paper I found in the pages of the book. One was some handwritten notes on a class on George Bernard Shaw and another just a piece of paper, a class schedule in tabular form written in faded blue fountain pen in cursive.
The pencil grid had disappeared by the time it reached me but the Calcutta University English class times were clear. This was my Pishemoshai’s (uncle’s–my father’s sister’s husband’s ) handwriting. He must have given it to my Pishi (aunt) sometime when they were in college together and my Pishi had inherited this book from my father, her older brother, who must have also taken the same class a few years earlier.
Those two pieces of paper in The Golden Treasury confirmed what I had heard –that Pishemoshai was always the more attentive student in college, taking notes and attending classes. Pishi was the opposite. But he always shared the class notes so she could ace her exams.
Pishemoshai passed away a few years back. And I don’t know where those two pieces of paper have gone. But the Golden Treasury is still on my shelf.
On the flyleaf of the book is a name in pencil. My dad’s. And below it is Pishi’s in fountain pen. I know my brother used it too and then I did the same in college. But my brother and I never put our names on the book for some reason. But mine is there on the brown paper cover.
Even now, whenever I think of the poem Ozymandias of Egypt, I think of a page on that book. The short poem occupies half a left-hand page of the 5 by 5 inch book with P. B. Shelley printed right below the title. I am able to see all this on my mind’s eye as I write.
I think I’ll never be able to separate some of those poems from the pages of that book.
So I packed the book a few years ago in my carry-on suitcase on several flights from Calcutta to California. The threads that strung the pages together were already old and so some of them broke as the suitcase rode roughshod over conveyor belts and damp luggage carts and sat next to AC vents in overhead luggage compartments.
Yet, the pages are still together. I’m thinking of tying a string around the whole book to keep it all in one place like a sheaf of parchment.
Yet, curiously enough, I can’t remember the last time I opened that book. Almost all the poems in the Golden Treasury are now online in full text.
I have read those poems on various computer screens. At home, I have accessed them through the last decade on my very first computer–an e machines desktop that I was loath to let go of when it died. I have accessed them on my subsequent super-heavy dell laptop, my somewhat lighter dell laptop that followed when the older one gave way and now on my current super-light laptop.
All these computers followed each other to their graves. The older machines are already gone. I have no illusions about my current machine surviving beyond the next 3 or 4 years. I can never imagine my nephew who is still a small boy finding anything that once belonged to me ever on them.
I know that most of those poems that shaped me are all there. The poems have moved through the computers like the same soul moving through a few generations of bodies.
And yet, whenever I picture those poems, I see them in print on my (or maybe our) brown paper covered Golden Treasury.
My Dad’s, Pishi’s, Pishemoshai’s, my brother’s and mine.
©bottledworder, 2013. https://bottledworder.wordpress.com
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