Dear Thambi

“Dear Thambi….Have a happy New Year.
Love, Mom & Dad”

Sifting through the aisles of a famous used bookstore in Bangalore with a friend I spotted this note in a book gifted with tender love and affection to a fellow named Thambi. The friend and I were here for one specific reason: to hoard books. The older, the better. Not because we’d get them for much cheaper (though the prospect of cheap books brightens any book hoarder’s day), but maybe because we were looking for something that couldn’t easily be procured online. And if you are a part of one of those serious Indian bibliophile circles, you know what I’m talking about (flash sales, lightning deals, pay via balance: get x% off).
But if you’re a passionate reader, then we both know that’s not the only reason why we were there. Old books are precious yes, but it was more so of the idea of walking through the shelves, smelling that musty smell, getting curious about some old corner just because its old, or simply because a single ray of sunlight from a grated window on a pile of books looked so inviting, you know the drill.
Like the friend said, “You don’t find the book, you let the book find you.”
And like I’d have loved to add, “Just like destiny.”
But I didn’t because enough had been said already and there were books to scout and buy. It had been years since I’d sincerely stepped foot in a traditional bookstore, unbiased by publishers and ‘what’s hot’, and I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of books I could choose from, so much that the friend was already busy checking out the publication years and I was still trying to figure out where to start looking. So I half-heartedly looked here and there, picked up a book or two, and then kept them back while being equally appalled at my sudden lack of enthusiasm (the friend by this time already had his arm full with some of the ancient titles he’d scored).
I guess the disappointment showed on my face, and the friend then decided to lift my spirits by showing me handwritten notes people had left in some of the ancient tomes. One was from a library, and the other was bestowed to an industrious student for performing well in school. But it was Thambi that piqued my interest, I guess it was something about the name, or maybe it was just that place; the old world smell,  the colour of the ink, and the penmanship that took me back to the time that note was probably written and the book finally gifted. I imagined Thambi to be an adolescent in the 80s, with neatly combed hair parted to one side (with an appropriate amount of oil), wearing one of those sweaters with diamond-shaped patterns and khaki pants pulled high. A very agreeable boy indeed. I imagined Thambi’s house to have high ceilings and his room to have a single bed with neatly folded linen, and a desk neatly arranged with just enough pens and stationery to write countless notes in countless many books.
This was one tiny note, in one dusty book, in one famous used bookstore in Bangalore. I was surprised by how this book could make me think so much, and I hadn’t even gone past the first page. You’d think that the book had found me, I thought so too, but then I just snapped a picture of the front page and kept it back making a mental note to write about it soon.

Nearly 5 months have passed, and during these months Thambi has often crossed my mind. I wonder if Thambi is still with us, if he is, then why did he give that book away? Was he in need of some quick cash following some tragic accident, had he fallen on hard times, or did he just one day wake up and decide that the book was not something he’d wish to keep? Or did someone take the book away from him, and then it ended up here? There could be countless possibilities and countless explanations. I’d like to believe that the book didn’t end up there because of some cruel turn of fate, however, I can’t imagine how not, so I just wish it was only mildly cruel.
What if Thambi decides to come back for his beloved book? He should have the chance, and maybe that’s why I left it there.

I wonder if Thambi wrote notes in books he gifted to other people, or if he got old enough to gift books at all?
There was something sad about that note, so here’s another hopeful one

Dear Thambi,
I hope you liked the book.

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