KOCHI: Rooms filled with books have always proven ideal for anything from discreet conversations with oneself to falling into deep sleep and even to murder (yes, Agatha Christie). Libraries have always held many rapt with child-like wonder, the very same which made Jorge Louis Borges to imagine that paradise will always be a kind of library.
Well, taking after this paradise, many have set up private libraries within homes. These become niches, housed into corners and the calm world of words that each cover shuts in.
For Manu S Pillai, author of The Ivory Throne and Rebel Sultans, there is everything to love in a private library. “The collection represents evolution and my personal journey – I still have the Childcraft series my father bought for my sister and me when we were very small. The same cupboard also holds copies of the book I wrote 20 years later,” he says.
Of the books he read in his childhood, Manu remembers reading Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield in its unabridged form at the age of 10. “Later, I wrote about my pains for a school newsletter, quite smug that I had finished a ‘big book’. I doubt I retained much as reading the book was just a task I set myself on,” he recalls. Of the many books in his collection, there is one which Manu holds closest – though, he is still searching for the copy. “Two decades ago, at a dinner party, R K Laxman drew me a cartoon. It was a rat, and as a child, not liking it much, I slipped it between the pages of some book and forgot all about it. I am still searching for that copy. Within it, there is something special that one day I shall find,” he hopes.
The most worn copy in his library would be a late 19th century French schoolbook found in the attic of a friend’s grandmother in a village near Nantes in France. Manu recollects, “She let me keep it, and I cheerfully accepted, for no specific reason. I have no idea what it says, but every time I glance at it, I remember that trip to Brittany in 2011.”
Manu, who admits to a “curious sense of delight in being able to constantly complain about space woes every time I add a book to my shelves”, recently added G N Devy’s After Amnesia to his library.
In a private library, there is always room for ‘one more’ and as each pile threaten to topple, the dilemma of arranging them buoys. While some prefer them alphabetised or colour-coded, there are a few who would rather ‘laissez faire’ (let go).
“The books which I need for ongoing research purposes are kept in a specific place, but in no particular order. Everything else is organised quite chaotically. As I have a visual sense of where I have placed which title, I rarely have trouble retrieving old books from different places in the room,” says Manu.
The author, who recently released his book The Courtesan, The Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin, is eyeing his next buy – The Architecture of a Deccan Sultanate by Pushkar Sohoni.