Rosalyn D'mello: Tying loose bookends together

Updated: Jan 26, 2018, 08:49 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Although I was resigned toward a clinical, unemotional methodology for arranging my books, I couldn't resist the memories it brought on

How intriguing, I thought, that today, at 32, I don’t conceive of unborn children as much as I do of the many books I am aching to birth. Representation Pic
How intriguing, I thought, that today, at 32, I don’t conceive of unborn children as much as I do of the many books I am aching to birth. Representation Pic

Rosalyn D'melloI simply hadn't found the time to restore my library post the renovation work in my apartment, partly because soon after the last labourer left, and even in between, I had to travel, and there was the whole business of my sister's wedding. All legitimate excuses. There were at least five suitcases in my storeroom that had been stuffed with all my books. It was one of those things I just never got around to doing, because it felt so daunting. So when I returned home from all the festivities in my other home, I was mentally prepared for the undertaking.

My superlatively beautiful and talented neighbour Rehaan even helped put me in the right frame of mind, by sharing with me an essay by Georges Perec titled Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One's Books, which was littered with a lot of unconventional wisdom about the logistics of setting up and sustaining one's library. "Books are not dispersed, but assembled," Perec writes. "Just as we put all the pots of jam into a jam cupboard, so we put all our books into the same place, or into several same places. Even though we want to keep them, we might pile our books away into trunks, put them in the cellar or the attic, or in the bottoms of wardrobes, but we generally prefer them to be visible."

On Wednesday around 10 pm, I was finally motivated enough to attempt the task at hand. A few days ago, I'd gotten around to arranging my kitchen, and my home was beginning to feel restored; a sense of order was prevailing. Then I attempted, single-handedly, to bring down three suitcases that must have each weighed at least 50 kilos, if not more. I had a slight moment of panic as I stood in my storeroom trying to lodge the donkey's load upon my back so I could gingerly escort its descent onto the floor.

If I pulled on it too tight, I could have easily gotten crushed under its weight, but I succeeded. And though I had initially planned on listening to Simeon Ten Holt's minimalist Canto Ostinato for three pianos and an organ, I decided on jazz instead. There's nothing like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to provoke you into a sprightly jig. I opted for a two-pronged approach. I would, for the moment, focus solely on stocking my books on the shelves. I put on hold the process of classification. One set of shelves would contain all the fiction and non-fiction books in my possession, while the other, on the opposite wall, would become a repository for all my art-related tomes and catalogues.

Although I was resigned towards a clinical, unemotional methodology involving just picking a bunch of books from the suitcase and placing them on the shelves, I couldn't resist the onslaught of memories. Each cover seemed like a trigger, reminding me of who I was and who I've become and what I'm meant to be. I started to think about what form of classification would serve me best. Should I place all the signed copies I own on a single shelf? That would create a cluster that ranged from JM Coetzee and Salman Rushdie to Irvine Welsh, Martin Amis, Anne Enright, Geoff Dyer, Jerry Pinto, Manohar Shetty, which would have defied each book's original genre.

Or should I put my proud collection of poetry together and stick to the convenient division of fiction and non-fiction? Before I could resolve that dilemma, I rediscovered notes from the authors themselves. Should I keep them back in the book or aside to be framed? One note by Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta, on my 30th birthday in 2015 read so — "Dearest Rosa, May your thirties bring in a decade of brilliance and epiphanies, magic, alchemy and love." Another, by the poet Georges Szirtes, had his pen drawing of a samovar with these lines: "As I was walking down the stairs, I met a woman made of air." I was 22 or 23 when I'd met Szirtes and was audacious enough to ask for a copy of his poems and the doodle I'd witnessed him making. I then stumbled upon an undated note to myself, obviously from centuries ago, that was expressive of a maternal urge. I wanted to have a child, because I wanted to experience the fullness of creating something out of nothing.

Obviously, at that time, I had never imagined that I would one day publish my own book that would find its way into other people's libraries and become part of their personally curated collective of books. How intriguing, I thought, that today, at 32, I don't conceive of unborn children as much as I do of the many books I am aching to birth; all fruits of my labour, sweat of my blood, flesh of my bones.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable 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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