Suresh Menon

This week our colum­nist is los­ing a bath­room while gain­ing a li­brary.

Friday - - Contents - 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.

Some­time this year, I shall be los­ing a bath­room, but gain­ing a li­brary. Rather in the man­ner of par­ents who con­sole them­selves ahead of a wed­ding by say­ing they’re not los­ing a daugh­ter (or son), but gain­ing a son (or daugh­ter).

The plan is to rip out the fit­tings in the toi­let at­tached to my study, put up shelves, re­move the door, con­vert the frame into a more pleas­ing arch and clear up floor space, ta­ble space, chair space and over­crowded shelf space around the house. It will mean even more ques­tions along the lines of “Gosh! Have you read all your books?”

My nor­mal re­ac­tion to the ques­tion is a pity­ing look ac­com­pa­nied by an ex­pres­sion that says, “How il­lit­er­ate of you to ask such a ques­tion,” and a gen­tle grunt that could mean any­thing from, “Ha ha!” to, “What makes you think I buy books to read them?” Or I bor­row from Ana­tole France and re­spond to the philis­tine thus, “I haven’t read one-tenth of them. I don’t sup­pose you use your Sevres china ev­ery day?”

Last year I had an idea for a book: I would go through my shelves, pick out books I hadn’t read yet and write about fi­nally catch­ing up on my read­ing. Per­haps I wouldn’t buy an­other book un­til I had read ev­ery one of those I al­ready owned. I quickly dropped the idea, how­ever. Sup­pose I had 520 un­read books, and read them at the rate of two ev­ery week, it would take me five years to go through the lot. Nei­ther prac­ti­cal nor de­sir­able.

In the (dis­tant) fu­ture, when my hair falls out, teeth fol­low suit and mem­ory goes west, I can give away all my books, keep­ing just one vol­ume – Anna

Karen­ina, for ex­am­ple, or some­thing by Dick­ens. I would need only one book,

Per­haps I wouldn’t buy an­other book un­til I had read ev­ery one of those I al­ready owned?

be­cause by the time I came to the end, I would have for­got­ten ev­ery­thing I read, and could start the same book again afresh.

Maybe I won’t even need a clas­sic. Some­where at home is a slim chil­dren’s book (not a book for slim chil­dren… you know what I mean). I can’t re­mem­ber the name, but there is a mark on page 38, a re­minder of my then in­fant son’s oral re­ac­tion to food. It is as evoca­tive as any of the pho­to­graphs taken of him at that stage. Like Proust’s Madeleine, it is a gate­way to a flood of mem­o­ries.

Mean­while, I sit and won­der why I have a book en­ti­tled The Com­plete

Works of Ja­son Crick or How to Build a Hospi­tal in 30 Easy Steps.

Maybe it is not a new li­brary I need so much as a larger rubbish bin.

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