Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Notes of a Nobody: On The Margins

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on May 10, 2013

One of the pleasures of buying second hand books is the opportunity to witness and own the unique scrawls, notes, and underlining that come along with them – gratis. Depending on the occasions, circumstances and the moods of the past owners, they can be expressive, cryptic or enigmatic. The diversity is immense with no specific pattern that is conclusive.

The easily decipherable ones are found in books that are given as presents with the giver hoping and wishing fervently that the receiver of the gift have similar experiences that the giver herself has had in the past as part of her reading experience. One travel book had the following inscription “Here’s a companion for your nights to forget my absence” and signed “T.A”.  I tried hard to guess if the writer was a male or a female but came up croppers. On an Isaac Asimov’s book it was written “Liberating !” underneath it was the name of a famous industrialist’s son who was known for his fascination with books and scholarship. The name was rubber stamped in neat blue alphabets. Another looked like a Christmas present from an old man to his grandson and read: “To Jamie, even when Nana is no more. Merry Christmas!” dated 25.12.78. There was another where the previous owner underlined some arresting sentences and kept writing “whoa!” time and time again. A couple of scrawls were reflective of an attempt at rapprochement. One book carried a cryptic one liner which read: “As a mark of an attempt to build the bridges that have been broken” and signed “P.B.” another said “wishing things would be the same between us once again” signed “Olivia” Then there was one passionate ‘Lord of the Rings” lover who wrote “No lending. Do not even try asking!” In a way all of these scrawls are ordinary giving away a lot of their context and circumstance in the first encounter itself.

However, best one I found was on a second hand copy of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” which read: “…… not an original enunciation of…. but a brilliant articulation of…. “. On the first glance, I found it cryptic. However, as I read this superb book, I started to understand what the previous owner’s scrawl meant. Siddhartha is one of the finest books ever written by a westerner for a common reader, dealing with the essence of Advaita school of philosophy. The eponymous hero’s dogged quest for enlightenment, the concept of samsara and its entanglements, the pain of breaking out from it and the ultimate realization of the Truth are portrayed in a language that scintillates with simplicity. The articulation of the central tenet of this profound and wonderful perspective on the essence of human life without depending on the need for words like God, Heaven and Hell is outstanding and brilliant. But the philosophy itself is not a creation of Hesse. It was already there and he articulated it in a way that is incomparable.

As much as I marvel at Hesse’s great creation, I also marvel at the brevity of the one liner on the margins

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