Books mustn’t cost anything…

The light is always burning. Always. The pure extravagance. My vengeance for the poverty I grew up in. Light only in a single room, you went to bed at dark. The few Centavos of pocket money I got, I put into batteries for a flashlight to read by at night. Books I stole. Books mustn’t cost anything, that’s what I thought then and still do.

~ Jorge O’Kelley in Pascal Mercier’s Night Train To Lisbon

I came across these lines in the wonderful book that I am reading now, and they broke my heart. NO ONE should have to feel like this. No one should not have free access to books when all they want to do is desperately read them. Just like no one who desperately needs food should go without it. No one should have to steal books in order to be able to read them… just as no one should have to steal food in order to eat or feed their children. The same goes for drinkable water.

I say food, water and books in the same breath because they are of equal importance to me. I cannot imagine a life without reading, without education. I believe that education is a sure step towards abolishing the evils that we see in the world around us, and becoming a more humane, a much better country. Education alone does not make a difference in the behaviour of a person – it is awareness and conditioning that does. That said, education – the ability to read about a world outside the four walls of your home – opens up innumerable avenues of thoughts, ideas and possibilities. It makes you aware of the different kinds of people who exist in the world, makes you more sensitive to their worlds and, in turn, to the things that are going on in your world. The ability to read books inculcates in you an understanding of yourself and life and the world at large. At least, that was the way it was for me.

Ensuring that books cost nothing is, according to me, a step towards building a better, more literate, more sensitive, more balanced nation.

I have thought on the same lines as the quote many a time, and feel strongly about the idea of books not costing anything. The thought holds even more relevance at this time when bookstores and educational institutions alike are going commercial. I know there are libraries where the fees are minimal – or do not exist at all – but the collection of books in such libraries is usually very limited, depending upon the kind of grants and donations that they receive. What I am talking about is free readership to all those who are interested in reading, free access to any and every kind of book there is, free access to dictionaries to enable people to expand their understanding of the written word. The cost of books should not be a deciding factor for a person contemplating whether he/she should read or not. Too perfect a world to exist? Maybe.

The quote also reminded me of my childhood, and brought many bittersweet feelings to the fore. I started reading early on in life, and loved it. I used to devour books with a vengeance, and enter worlds that were so different from my own. I never knew boredom when I was with books. Appa used to buy me the few books he could, on his limited government servant’s salary, considering the financial demands of a fairly big joint family. I used to go to a library near my house to satiate my unending thirst for reading, but it used to run on grants and the collection was not all that wonderful. I wanted to read far beyond the kind of books that I had access to but, sadly, couldn’t. Books were a luxury back then, and I wanted them to become a basic necessity – like food or clothes or water. I got a good education, but not the books I wanted to read – at least not frequently.

The situation changed when I started earning. I used to reserve a part of my paltry beginner’s salary to buy the books I wanted to read. Slowly and steadily, as my income grew, my reading tastes also changed and I was able to cater to them. I am lucky to have a husband who, though he does not read, understands why I love books so and does not hesitate to buy them for me.

Today, the husband and I help our maid finance the education of her son – the only bright spot in her dreary life with a drunkard husband, a mentally challenged daughter, poverty, lots of illnesses, and the burden of a widowed aunt who does not have a home of her own. In her son’s education lies her hope for a better future, and I am glad we are helping her realise her dreams in whatever little way we can.

Today, I love gifting books to people who are waiting for the magic of reading to spread into their lives. Waiting, for whatever reasons.

Even today, I am not in a position to buy all the books that I want to, but I am grateful for the long way I have come.

Sometimes, I think of how wonderful it would have been if I could always have read all that I wanted to, there were no gaps in my reading, I had a mentor to guide along my reading and get me the most appropriate books at the different stages of my life. I would have been a better reader, a more well-rounded person, and infinitely better off in my career – I think so.

I am not regretful. I am not ungrateful. I am not complaining. I just wonder… what if books do not cost anything? It would have made a world of difference to me. As it would have to Jorge.

Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahaan nahi milta…
Kahin zami to kahin aasmaa nahi milta….

PS: This wasn’t an easy post for me to write. I deliberated over deleting the entire thing off several times, and then decided against it. I hope you will be compassionate (not pitiful) and non-judgemental in your reading of this post.

28 thoughts on “Books mustn’t cost anything…

  1. Library used to be my favourite period in school… read whatever I could get.. but surprisingly , never wondered why I did not have more access to books. I would devour the written word in any form… books, magazines, newspaper articles, comics… paper used for wrapping churmuri, paper at the bottom of the clothes in a shelf or in a trunk.. u get the drift…
    I totally get what you said GND. Glad you did not delete this one!


    1. @Priya

      I know…I used to haunt the library at one point of time in my life too. But then, I didn’t really get to read the types of books that I should be reading at that stage. It would have worked wonders for my life – and I think, my career – if I had.


  2. I think we wont value books if we get them for free. The joy of receiving new as well as second hand books from pa during my childhood is indescribable. The joy of devouring the library books and waiting for the weekend to get a new set..bliss 🙂


  3. TGND,

    I really respect your words and you are very right. I feel like that about education and books as well. Isn’t the thirst and yearning for knowledge greater than anything else? While I do wonder if everyone would value books if they were all free always, I agree with the concept that should someone crave for it dearly, it should be easily and freely accessible.When I was young, papa would get some awesome books from his library at work that had a superb collection and he himself being an avid reader, books that I had not read were around. But more than all that, what am thankful for is that I loved books. I loved what Uma said for it so true!
    But the funny thing about people who have books is that they always want more! Sometimes, I have books waiting to be read but I go straight to a store and bring another bundle. The good fortune makes me happy but sometimes, I do get teary eyed as well. Blunt as it may sound, owning your own copies of books is still a privilege.

    Thank you for writing this post. I would not have for a bit wanted to delete it. It is beautiful because it is true.
    Thank you! 🙂


    1. @Kismi

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Kismi! 🙂

      I wonder about what you have said often, too – would we value books so much if we had free access to them? I don’t know.

      I buy piles of books when I already have piles waiting at home to be read, too. Crazy! And I get teary-eyed and sentimental, too, when I think of the privilege I have to do that now. 🙂


  4. Beautiful post TGND 🙂 So true about books opening new doors and windows. Books give you a different perspective towards people, places and the world in general. I haven’t read Night Train to Lisbon will read it soon.


  5. Your post reminded me to write something about Books that has been lingering in my mind since months. 🙂
    So I see that The Night Train To Lisbon has started to spread its magic. Its a beautiful book. There is another line in it which I love but I will let you know after you finish it.
    Regarding books – there was a time when I would save every single rupee and go to Daryaganj Sunday market and bargain to buy as many second hand novels as I could with that money. I still have those books in my shelf with the ones I now buy from Flipkart. Its like my past and present sitting together in a shelf.
    I need to write that post.


    1. @Amit

      Yes, Night Train To Lisbon is magical indeed! Some parts of it irritate me to no end, and are utterly unbelievable, but I am still loving the book.

      I know which line you love. Read about it on your blog. 🙂

      Please, please, please do that post. I, for one, would love to read it.


  6. You do keep echoing my thoughts on books ALL the time, don’t you? 😛

    This is the reason I am unable to be possessive of my books – at least most of them, being someone who re-reads rarely. I always remember younger days (just 4yrs back) when books used to be rationed by mom, and I’d always crave for more. Whether or not I can give away my books to the ‘poor’, there is still some kid out there who can’t get enough. I’d say the joy of knowing that someone else enjoyed the book with fresh, thirsty, excited eyes is much more than that of showing off my collection of books stacked neatly in a glass-front shelf!


    1. @The conjecture girl

      Hee hee. Do I?

      In spite of my thoughts that books shouldn’t cost anything, I am still very possessive about my precious darlings. I can’t bear anyone borrowing them from me. I fear for their safety when my darlings are away. I rarely re-read my books too, but I still do not like sharing.

      I would rather buy a new copy for someone to read rather than sharing my copy. One of the reasons (maybe irrational) behind this is that I have a desire to re-read all of my books at a later stage in my life to see how I have changed. Do I even make sense?

      Anyhow, I don’t think I have met anyone with as burning a passion to read as mine, who wants to borrow my books. If I do, I think I would gladly give away my books to him/her, secure in the knowledge that he/she would take good care of my babies, as much as I do.


  7. You are a lovely person and WELL DONE YOU.. we need a lot of people like you to make this nation a beautiful place once again

    and yeah books shud not cost but then how will the authors and other live 🙂

    Very TGND, I am so glad I know you ..


  8. what a lovely post this my dear 🙂

    I dream just like you and my reading journey has been quite similar as well 🙂

    I wish what you dream comes true & I wish I can contribute to it 🙂


  9. This is such a beautiful post, with such lovely sentiments. I’ve been lucky to grow up in a household where I could have as many books as I was able to read, and with good access to a public library all my life. Reading is a privilege and there are so many people who do without. I think that’s why libraries are so important – both school libraries and public libraries – and we should all support them. It wasn’t long ago that the mere ability to read was a luxury everywhere, and there are still too many places where that’s true, and too many places where even if one is able to read, one’s access to books is limited. We have work to do!


    1. @Jaclyn

      Thank you, Jaclyn!

      We have loads of work to do indeed!

      We do have lots of public libraries in India, but sadly, the collection of books here is limited – mostly restricted to the classics and a few other books.


  10. What a beautiful post this one is!

    I used to read books borrowed from the school library,and literally devoured all the Famous fives at one point of time. As I grew up there were not many libraries in the small town I grew up,I used to rent books from a small bookstore. I totally understand what it is to not being able to buy books when you have that hunger for good literature.

    How wonderful it would really be if books did not cost anything!! Sigh!!


  11. I so agree. Books are windows to the world, to open up your mind, heart and soul, to bring in fresh perspective and attitude. That said, encouraging a person to read needs to be done at an early age by the tutors, parents and guardians. A situation worse than having no money to buy books is to be drowned in money and having no exposure to reading. Little or more, everyone must read something outside of their realm, of their study and work.
    Lovely post!


    1. @Uma

      Thank you, Uma.

      A situation worse than having no money to buy books is to be drowned in money and having no exposure to reading.- Thank you so much for reminding me of that. I needed to be reminded of that.

      I am grateful that I could inculcate the love for reading in my life at such a young age, in spite of having no real role model in terms of reading, or very favourable circumstances.


  12. Such a heartfelt post TGND. How I wonder a lot of times if I could afford those books that are still inaccessible to me. Books are the biggest gift anyone can have because they break the shackles of mind.


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