Binding Books

When I was about 15, oh so long ago now, I had this crazy hobby of book binding, which is like the process of turning a paperback into a hardcover, or adding a hardcover to an exercise book. With the mild OCD that I have, I do get a bit carried away with such things, and no books around me or in my dad’s collection were spared. I collaborated with a local printing press to access their cutting machine and local stationery stores to research on various techniques and acquire supplies. My crowning moment was when I did a “full-calico” binding on a rather useless book that my dad had recently purchased.

It was at that age that I joined the so-called pre-degree program (like the 11th grade in a high school, I guess) at the Government Arts College in Trivandrum, Kerala, India and met many of the people who would later become friends for life. And to most of them, I showed off my book-binding prowess which I had applied to my text books. By the way, a fair warning at this point: this post is going to turn dark very soon.

I must have harped on this book-binding theme a bit too much, for one of my new friends grabbed my text book and autographed it, saying “Binded by me, Manoj”. I am not sure if “binded” is a real word because the spell checker is now highlighting it with that squiggly red line. Maybe it should have been “bound,” or maybe book binding should never be a hobby to begin with. Anyway, this friend of mine, Anil, was one of those special creations of God (for those who believe in Gods and creations), gifted with enormous brain powers, sharp wit and a great sense of humor, and an astonishing array of talents ranging from poetry writing to higher mathematics. He was also the topper (among boys) in the state of Kerala in the Secondary School Leaving Exam in a cohort of probably about half a million students. I specified “among boys” because girls used to bag the top three ranks regularly during that time. He must have been the fourth rank holder.

Anil passed away last week. I guess my generation has reached that age when we start losing our contemporaneous context like friends and cousins, in addition to the previous generation like parents and uncles and aunties. The question still echoes in my mind, 12 years on: Why do we grieve? I think I know now. We and our lives are the totality of the impressions and memories we create in other minds, and the projections of our souls in theirs. Our existence has no validation or even reality beyond the reflections we see in our friends and those close to us. When they are gone, our grief is not only for them, but for ourselves too.

Anil thought as highly of me as I thought of him. We always enjoyed each other’s company and appreciated the “intellectual content” in our conversations, as he put it. With him gone, I will miss his company and the conversations. I will also miss the mirror that reflected such a happy portrait of myself. His death diminishes me and my existence. Without him, the space I occupy in this universe has become smaller. I am sure this is true of all his friends. The bell tolls for all of us, my friend, not just for you.