I consider myself a sniffer dog well disciplined by two skilled coaches. No laughing matter, please. Even after fifty years, I am pleased to call myself thus, as far as books are concerned. Be it a public library or a used bookshop with hills and hills of assorted books, I would very easily sniff out the literary work hiding anywhere. The book too with no grudge would come into my loving hands. It is happy to reach home with me, away from dust and cobwebs and the tension of getting smothered by another pillow-like almanacs and telephone directories. Its joy would be even more when it finds a place of its own in my library, along with friends and strangers.
After my retirement I bought a house next door, spending all the money the government gave me for my forty years of service, just to accommodate my entire collection of world literature and history. I have overheard my colleagues say that I am a fool of an ass, for instead of renting out this double-storied building and making money, I made it a waste paper godown. Ah, what great minds! Why should they love books as if they have nothing else to love after retirement? Let me not waste my readers’ time in talking about them. Instead, I would like to say of two real great minds who made me a sniffer dog.
The two scholarly Professors are R. Venugopalan Nair and N. Santhalingam, who at their ripe old age still read books and continue to spend a major chunk of their pension every month on their beloveds, called books. I was blessed to have these two great teachers of literature when I joined college to get graduated in English language & literature. They were not only well-read but also well versed in the art of delivering their goods. Disinterested intellectuals knew the science of attracting even the uninterested. Perhaps they found a spark in me and thought if blown properly would grow into a conflagration. They blew air into me and changed my life. Only the Siddhas could do it and these two were real Siddha purushas. Whatever fame I enjoy today through my writing, they were in every way responsible for it. Now I should rush to say how they moulded the reader in me and thereby whip up the slumbering writer in me.
That was a time when professors maintained a safe distance from students as if the latter suffered from one contagious disease or the other. Fortunately, all the English professors were very friendly with me, and I never looked at them as unwanted botheration. This enabled me to go closer to them and they took care of me as they would their younger brother. The two professors I am talking about treated me like a son. I was able to learn more from them.
They taught me the art of loving books. “If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying,” advised Prof. Nair. I began to spend on books all the pocket money my parents gave me to buy snacks and tea. “Start reading all the works of three writers – Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, and R.K.Narayan. Enjoy their simple style and develop a style of your own,” guided Prof. Santhalingam. Since he himself is a great collector of books, he took me to used book shops and trained me in the art of haggling. This is how books, one after the other, found their shelter in my home.
I used to spend my evenings with my professors in their homes. Such conversations with them satisfied both my appetites. I gathered knowledge and filled my stomach with whatever goodies the Mrs. Professors gave me with their motherly affection.
“It is not enough to read only the prescribed authors if you want to have a wide knowledge of literature. Make use of my collection,” recommended Prof. Nair and introduced me to the best of Russian, German, French, Chinese, and Italian authors. I came to hear of Mayakovski and Boris Pasternak, Goethe and Kafka, Albert Camus and Pierre La Mure, Lao Tzu and Lin Yutang, Giovanni Boccaccio and Alberto Moravio, and also palada payasam and fish moilee. I became a voracious reader of world authors. and my knowledge of world literature was far above the reach of my batch mates, who struggled only with the textbooks for the sake of a few more marks.
Prof. Santhalingam magnanimously opened for me his vast collection, which he rarely did to others. “Take any book you want to read, but put it back in its place once you finish reading.” That was his only request for he knew well that book lovers, like Bernard Shaw, treat others’ books as their own. Yet he quite often told me to restrict my reading to the best of writers and never waste time on pulp. I studied whatever he gave me to read. Dosai with kaadai kuruma was the real puller to his house.
Both these professors are gods in human form and that’s why I love to be their disciple till I breathe my last, for without their help I would not be what I am today.