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The great book chase

Lurking deep in the heart of every librarian is a set of amazing stories which are not a part of the library collection. These tales are about sleuthing worthy of note by the greatest detectives in literature, relentless and dogged pursuit which would make even “Les Miserables” pale in comparison, and shades of serendipity which would make the reader gasp with wonder.

I exaggerate, you think? Draw a little closer and listen because I speak from the horse’s mouth. Since I have never believed in imposing fines for late return of books, there is a certain ‘lackadaisiness ‘on the part of young users in our library. But they can’t so easily ignore a presence which suggests that they pull their beds from the wall, lift a pillow and check the kitchen cupboard for the missing book especially when more often than not, it is found in one of these spaces. But with one teenager, I hit a wall. He was adamant that the book was not with him and only after we agreed on a wager did he actually let me into his sanctorum to search for the book. Minutes later, I was triumphantly holding aloft the huge book which was ensconced amidst his text books of the same size. With no loss of face, he admitted he had hardly touched his text books for weeks! Now a noted surgeon in the U.K., I hope he is applying the adage, “When you have gone through all the possibilities, try the impossible.”

Another young person was a voracious reader and no one was more distressed than she when three of her borrowed books were unaccounted for.  Tearfully she averred having checked all the unusual places as well, and I let it go, respecting her feelings. Some years later after she completed her courses, she moved to Holland. The first time she came back to India and visited the school, she marched into the library, joyfully carrying the missing books. They had come home after a Dutch treat 10 years later. She was ecstatic and so was I.

Once I was browsing at a used book store when I came upon a precious library book from a school I had worked at. I recognised it instantly and then began a most unusual conversation with the owner. He naturally wanted the price he had listed while I kept appealing to his sense of fair play. How could he have bought a book which was obviously lifted from a library? I wanted him to give it to me gratis, to be returned to the library. Believe it or not, he finally agreed and that book happily went back home.

Guy de Maupassant is a master teller of short stories with surprise endings, but even he may not be able to top this one. An aunt whose husband was gravely ill mentioned that he had expressed a wish to listen to a story by the French writer. I knew our library had a copy so the book made its way to my aunt’s house. Sadly, in a few months her husband passed away but not before listening to the story. A few more months went by before I ventured to ask for the book back. My aunt was out of the country by then, but gave me detailed instructions to get into the house past all the locked doors. Stealthily, I tiptoed through all her book shelves, with no luck. I then tried to do a Holmes exercise by going over all the relatives who might have visited the house and picked up the book to read. But none of them had it. Meanwhile my aunt wanted to replace the book but something made me hold her back. Last week I got a call from her. “The book is back,” she said joyfully. “How….what…when…?”  I stuttered. “It was the Doctor,” she explained. He had been sitting next to the patient, monitoring his condition. The book caught his eye and he started reading it. When he rose to leave, he absent-mindedly took it home along with his stethoscope!  Alas, if only the heroine in Maupassant’s story, “The Necklace” could have had such a happy ending!

Usha Mukunda.

August 21st 2014

“Serena”. 103. 6th Main Road. Malleswaram. Bangalore 560003.

Tel. No: 23348657.