Rosalyn D'Mello: Opening new chapters in my book

Once released into the world, books take on their own journey and amass stories, as this columnist has found with her debut novel

So there I was, looking for Margaret Atwood, wishing I were a better stalker. She had probably been swallowed by an aerobridge. What a story it would have made; me, a debut writer, pursuing Atwood on the brink of her departure to hand her a copy of my book. As I accepted defeat and began to walk back to where my partner was waiting, I thought to look more closely at the destinations being advertised by the gates around me. I looked at the Air India counter; it read New Delhi to Heathrow. Maybe Atwood was taking a connecting flight from London to Toronto. With renewed enthusiasm I made my way up to the two men manning the desk.

Since A Handbook For My Lover’s release in December, it has amassed a lovely anthology of stories around its form. Representation Pic/Thinkstock
Since A Handbook For My Lover’s release in December, it has amassed a lovely anthology of stories around its form. Representation Pic/Thinkstock

“Did you happen to see a distinguished looking woman with a silver crop of hair?” I asked.

“Just give us a name, Ma’am,” one man said.

“Margaret Atwood,” I said.

He keyed in her name as I waited in suspense.

“She’s already boarded her flight,” he said. “She’s travelling business class.”

“Damn. Is there any way you can get this book across to her?” I asked.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “We are not authorised to do that,” he replied.

“Why? It’s just a book,” I pleaded.

“Sorry Ma’am, it could be a security risk,” he said.

I smirked at the thought of my book being perceived as a dangerous threat to society.

“What if another passenger agreed to give her the book?” I asked, ever resourceful.

“That would be between you and the other passenger,” he advised.

I looked around, there was a woman, probably in her late twenties, who was about to hand over her boarding card and make her way into the aerobridge.

“Hi,” I said. “Are you on this flight?” I asked.

When she confirmed, I asked her if she could possibly give a copy of my book to Atwood.

“She’s this legendary writer, she’s travelling business class, all you have to do is give her this book!” I said.

“But how will she know who its from?” the angel of deliverance asked. “Maybe you should sign it?”

So I did. I wrote, “For Margaret Atwood,” and I signed my name.

The angel soon disappeared. Hours later, when I landed in Kolkata and was art gallery hopping, my editor friend Simar, a fellow Atwood lover, texted me to say she had tweeted about my book and referred to me as an Indian Anais Nin. The thought of my book nestled between her fingers, the red-velvet-cupcake-coloured edges being thumbed over as she leafed through the pages thrilled me to no extent.

It’s fascinating how the physical object that is the book assumes a life force of its own in the hands of unknown readers. Since A Handbook For My Lover was released in December, it has amassed a lovely anthology of stories around its form. A friend in Mumbai told me he’d read half of it and was deriving great pleasure from each page, when one day, when he was hoping to resume reading, he found his signed copy missing from his shelf. “Someone had stolen it!” he told me, all aghast.

Last month, when I was in Mumbai for an event, a young woman came up to me and said she’d read the book because a few weeks ago, when she was on vacation, she’d met an older man who loaned her his copy. He wanted her to read it and then return it to him, so that the act of returning would ensure a second encounter. She asked me to sign it for him.

Just yesterday, I received the most heartwarming letter from a young man in Pune, who had read my book with a pencil in hand and had made extensive markings across its expanse. I asked him to indulge me and send me photographs of said pages. He did, and it was amazing to behold how his readerly intervention had enhanced the book and engendered an act of creation in itself. Another reader had actually ‘rescued’ my book from a yard sale. It was a signed copy that had been addressed to a famous photographer, who either deliberately or inadvertently gave it away. This reader reviewed my book on Goodreads and in doing so made this secondhand copy her own.

If language is what binds us as a species, then books are like talismans. They emanate from the author and then exist outside of her purview. Henry Miller speaks divinely of the ritual of closing the book when you finish it and how in doing so you continue the act of creation. “Suddenly it becomes clear to you, that when God made the world He did not abandon it to sit in contemplation — somewhere in limbo. God made the world and He entered into it: that is the meaning of creation.”

(Concluded)

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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