During my days in the American College, Madurai, (1938 - 1942) I developed an interest in books. I was a frequent visitor to the college library. The then librarian, Mr. Solomon, and his assistant encouraged me to read books. They said that from 1940 onwards there was an awakening among the students to read more and more Tamil books, particularly classical literature.
I do not remember when I started buying books and started a library of my own. Surely, it must be after I got employed and had some money to spend on books. Books were not as expensive in those days as they are today.. One empty deal-wood box which was once used for storing provisions in the kitchen, was my book shelf. I had about fifty or sixty books by the time I left Madurai for good, to settle in Bombay, in 1959. Considering the number of books, mine was not a library to boast, but it was the desire to collect books, a rare ambition among youths in those days. I had placed an aquarium tank containing a community of fish, on the top of my library shelf , and looked after the fish as a hobby and maintained it as a decorative piece for my book shelf.
Some of the books I had in my library were, “Plain Living and High thinking”, books of Thomas Paine and others from Thinker’s Library Series, “Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru” (the original, green Khadi editi0on), “Discovery of India” by Nehru, “Hundred Short Stories” of Guy de Maupassant, a few dramas of George Bernard Shaw, a couple of novels of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. Among the Tamil books I treasured were “Silapathikaram”, annotated by V.V. Swaminatha Iyer( a fat volume), Collected short stories of Pudumai Pithan, “Thanippadal Thirattu” an anthology of Tamil venba (verses of four lines) by different poets, etc.
In 1959 when I shifted to Bombay to teach in Bombay Scottish School, I was not prepared to carry the books with me, for, initially, I didn’t even have a flat to stay in. I was accommodated with Flora and Edwin in their rented house in Vakola, Santacruz East for almost a year. Then I decided to give away the books to deserving organizations in Madurai. I gave away some of the English books to Y.M.C.A. Library. But I do not remember to whom I passed on the rest of my books.
Once settled well in Bombay and having had some money to spare for books, I started buying books from Readers Digest and other publications, mostly from book stalls and pavement book sellers in Flora Fountain area. I bought old copies of National Geographic and from them, removed articles of my interest and bound them into a volume. I have a number of such volumes containing mostly articles on science and travel. I did the same with “India magazine” and “Sanctuary”. There are about fifty volumes of Indian History, Culture, travel, Indian Art, Monuments, Sepoy Mutiny, British India, etc. There are volumes on Biology, Geology, anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, space, cultural evolution of man, environmental science, time and the like. There are a couple of volumes on Second World War and more than a dozen books of English poems by Indian poets and half a dozen novels of Arthur Hailey, Leon Uris and Thomas Hardy. Not to forget a few volumes on history of Christianity and Christianity itself.
Now (2004) I am faced with the problem of disposal of these two hundred and odd volumes after my days. None of the members of the family seem to be interested in them and for them most of the books may be outdated. But then I have to decide to whom the books should go. This is my problem for the moment.
(42) Letter to Selwyn
I had left a book of poems with Sam (your brother in Madurai) to be passed on to you, when I was in Madurai in May. I am sure he gave it to you. I expected your acknowledgement of the book and your appreciation (or condemnation) of the small effort of mine. You can still do it; it is never too late.
As an ex-soldier of the II World War, I very much like the poem "FROM THE ABYSS" by Margaret Chatterjee, in page 8. The sketch by the side is that of the memorial to the unknown soldier erected in Kohima at the end of the war; -- drawn by me. To understand the poem fully