He’s bank­ing on his words

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In my younger days, I knew ex­actly where my last bank note was. Let me ex­plain. It is the end of the month, and with my salary hav­ing been spent on books, cig­a­rettes and some food, there is pres­sure on my fi­nances. And this is be­fore deficit fi­nanc­ing – or credit cards – had be­come a pop­u­lar op­tion. At some point in the last week of the month, I would throw my arms up in de­spair and ask, “Where on earth has my money gone?”

And the an­swer would sug­gest it­self, the key word be­ing “earth”. For in my dic­tionary, on the page where the word “earth” ap­peared, would be a 100 ru­pee note or a 500 ru­pee note, thought­fully placed there on pay day.

Ev­ery now and then news­pa­pers carry sto­ries about the stuff that is some­times mined from some­one’s stom­ach af­ter an op­er­a­tion: nails, watches, rings, a sub­scrip­tion to Time mag­a­zine – the list is of­ten fas­ci­nat­ing, if some­times a tad nau­seous. If I were to per­form a sim­i­lar ex­er­cise on my books, the re­sult would be just as fas­ci­nat­ing, I fancy. Re­cently I found a let­ter in

The Com­plete Works of Os­car Wilde wish­ing me luck in my new job as sports ed­i­tor. It was from Su­nil Gavaskar. Be­tween another set of pages was an elec­tric­ity bill from the year France won the foot­ball World Cup.

Re­ceipts, bills, movie tick­ets, air­craft board­ing passes, let­ters from friends ask­ing for en­dorse­ment of some­thing or other (usu­ally the other) tend to nes­tle be­tween the pages of books. No won­der they say books are a man’s best friend. Or at least man’s best non-bark­ing friend.

But you can overdo things. We once spent nearly half a fam­ily va­ca­tion look­ing for my son’s birth cer­tifi­cate un­til it was dis­cov­ered sleep­ing sweetly in a cof­fee ta­ble book about the artist Michelan­gelo.

The favourite fam­ily fan­tasy is a let­ter from a lawyer or head of a trust sud­denly dis­cov­ered among – iron­i­cally enough – The Let­ters of Ge­orge Or­well in­form­ing us that a dis­tant rel­a­tive had passed on leav­ing us a few mil­lion dol­lars, three cot­tages on the coast of France and a rare col­lec­tion of Shakespeare’s first fo­lios. To be col­lected at our con­ve­nience, of course. For it might take years for the let­ter to be dis­cov­ered.

But the days of money on “earth” are over, thanks in the main to bet­ter fi­nan­cial man­age­ment. Still, who wouldn’t like to find it in a book?

In re­cent years, I have taken to giv­ing books to friends as a gift, with a bank note in­side. And when they tell me how much they en­joyed the book, I know they haven’t read it. For there is no talk of money.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is.

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