Books and nostalgia | The Daily Star
There is something very interesting about the way certain scents take you back in time, much like a time machine would, if it ever existed.
I was to start this column today by writing about my favorite book. But flipping through the dented copy of my all-time favorite, Erich Segal’s Class, I realized that it would be better to explore and share the memories with this book on another day. Standing in front of my library, looking for a book to write about for my first column, suddenly turned into a trail of memory. Every book I looked at had a personal story, it took me back to my school days and even times as far back as I could barely reach the top of a bookshelf!
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Small white bailiff the petals can bring back the astonishment you once felt at the typical 90s sight of a rickshaw on the streets of Dhaka, pedaling in the rain with more than six young passengers all huddled together; colognes can remind you of those forbidden passionate nights; burnt toast from long gone school days, to rush to catch the bus. New books may remind you of morning tea in Nilkhet; and shoe polish, casual weekends with your dad. Sounds the same with the gold hits and songs you grew up listening to, tunes that make you nostalgic and yearn for the days of fun and freedom. Bibliophiles will claim the same when they see the cover of a book, or hear an author’s name or a title they once cherished. They think back to the characters they fell in love with and wonder why they don’t now realize the passion they had for reading for hours together, oblivious to the world going by.
My bookshelf is filled with books of all kinds, starting with books on politics, Bengali grammar and shomogro (collections) of various writers and characters from popular books, to the Harry Potter series and photocopied versions of Shakespeare from my college days. There are books that wear out over time, but I just don’t have the heart to take them out or give them away. Six centuries of great poetry bought in the late 90s from Al Jarir Bookstore, one of my favorite bookstores, where I grew up; a large copy of Many more bedtime stories that my father had bought for me, which I suspect was partially eaten by rats; an old Oxford dictionary – a gift for the 10th anniversary; and a set of books from my father’s shelf from the 1980s, essays written by some of the greatest thinkers and scholars of all time. When I look at them, I am filled with memories.
Do schools still have libraries? And is it still obligatory for young students to borrow books from the library like we should, once a week? I am not sure! I haven’t been back to school in ages! But I know it’s all digital now, and luckily for book lovers and readers alike, new versions can be viewed online and bought or rented almost immediately. I’m sure today’s readers would be surprised at how a school library operated in the 90s.
My school library wasn’t huge, but it wasn’t tiny either. Walls lined with wooden shelves, the room mostly filled with chairs and tables for students to quietly come to read or make references for projects. Librarian Ms Elizabeth Mathew, a tall and gentle lady from Kerala, India, was always on the lookout for students she could put to work to organize the books scattered on the tables, make sure they were placed in the right shelves in the right categories and so on. Shipments of new books would come in every few months and that’s when most students did their best to stay away from the library and Ms. Mathew.
Ms Mathew would have the students help her empty every box and box, filled with travel dust covering the books, record the details of authors, titles and number each book according to category and genre. Notice, dear readers, this was all done by hand, with the old-fashioned pen in big ledger-type notebooks. Each book would have pages with school emblem stamps and the very last page of the book would have a pocket-like structure glued with library cards. Students were allowed to borrow or publish a book for a week (or longer if needed) and their names were listed on the respective library card. So if you borrowed or issued a book from the library, you could actually see on the map who had borrowed it before you did.
I loved every minute of the whole process! I would sometimes skip class just to watch the librarian unload the boxes, yell at the students to help dust the books, turn the pages to make sure they were all there, start the categorization task, and finally get each book ready. for publication. “You girl!” she would say. “Don’t think I can’t see you!” You’re still skipping class, aren’t you? Take this stack of books from this table first, then run to class!
I brought her the stack of books she wanted, then sat next to her on the floor, sorting through the many versions of the Atlas she had just pulled out of the box marked “Misc Stationary”. I would see Mrs. Mathew’s eyes shine at the sight of the new Atlases! In silence, she and I began to mark, stamp and categorize each of the books, forgetting everything to send this student back to class!
Two of my most cherished possessions as a child were The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum and Sunbeam Rabbit Country by Vsevolod Nestaĭko. The books were big and heavy, each page filled with beautiful illustrations, and they had cost a fortune! My chacha (paternal uncle), Rezaul Karim, who was a young man living on a budget like any other middle class young man in the late 80s, bought these books for me at the New Market in Chittagong and never realized how they ended up would be read, reread and stay with me forever. Or maybe not forever! I was no more than six or seven when I got hold of these books and cherished them until I was 18. Sadly, moving my home in the Middle East to my homeland, Bangladesh, caused me to lose a lot of the things I had cherished. then — posters, magazines, notebooks, weird wooden jewelry, handmade friendship bands, slam books, and a first draft of the Geetobitan with favorite lines and songs marked in pencil by my parents, including the books I had cherished for so long.
Dramas in the Bard’s dramas, descriptions of picnics in the gardens in Georgian times, a young woman dreaming of a utopian world where women are free, a young man wandering in a yellow Punjabi, and brooding romantic heroes making you wish they were real – it’s crazy how simple pages tied together manage to free you, comfort you, heal you, and how they let you discover a whole new world than you, otherwise, had no idea of existence!
Elita karim is a journalist, musician and editor-in-chief of Star Arts & Entertainment and Star Youth, The star of everyday life. She tweets @elitakarim.