Jorge Luis Borges said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”. And rightly so, in that pursuit of not believing in the existence of paradise or the afterlife, and thus creating one such paradise on my own, much like the mythical Shadad did between the shadow and the soul, I have gone through a lot. I have been intimidated, harassed, provoked, and, more often than not, told that I am good for nothing. And all that, just for my love for books.
So one day, when I returned from my school on a Friday, at 12, there was an uncertain rush in our house. It could have been best explained as a mad frenzy. I hurried to my room. I could not comprehend what was going on. From my room, which looked into the backyard, I saw papers falling down on grass from somewhere, and in less than a minute, they were strewn all across the ground. They glistened in the sun. The sheen they reflected was menacing.
The old tin trunks in the attic had already been emptied. The gunny sacks draped in dust were thrown out through the high window. That was ten years ago. In the tin trucks, or gunnysacks , there were only books. Contrary to what one would be led to believe from the way I narrate my story, all books were not works of fiction, or poetry. There were books on religion. They were written in Urdu. And some of them, which I would later salvage from fire, were English translations of collected traditions. There were old newspapers. The colour of the paper had turned to pale yellow. They smelled of turpentine now. On Sundays I used to spend most of my time digging in the dirt sacks for more books. The pigeons were my company. The attic was my escape from the mediocrity of my father. He did not like me reading literature.
Then, it was decided. The books would be thrown away. The attic will no longer stink of gasoline and pigeon shit. No one referred to books as books, and newspapers as newspapers. They were scrap to everyone. When the day arrived I watched everything in despair. I grew morose. They were at war with me. I was a lone fighter. They charged at the doors. They went up to the attic, in space. I stood close by, on the moon, looking at them in defeat. In two hours the whole contents of the attic was in the backyard. I ran hard. The newspapers were on fire. I was in tears. I said to father, ' let's talk it over... don't burn books… I want them. ' Forwhat? My library, my paradise. He didn't give in. I just had to salvage books from his violence. And I did, but not as many as 10 books. That day, I vowed to him. I will have my own library one day, and you will see it and I will tell you : look, you cannot burn my flowers now. You cannot pluck them and throw them away in dirt. Since that day, I have been collecting books. I have been contriving seashells, putting together my paradise, a bit of the sea, a bit of land.
Omair Bhat likes to think of himself as a memory keeper. Literature is to him what rain is to autumn. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org