Book Tales: A Pakistani book lover’s experience with libraries

Back in Pakistan, my experience with libraries was limited to my school library, then my college library. I had a lot of fun with my school library. I borrowed new books from the library every week. In this way, I got my hands on series like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and The Baby-Sitters Club. I read these series primarily from my school library, as the books my parents got me at that stage were mostly Enid Blyton books and classics. I also had the experience of picking up To Kill a Mockingbird many times from the shelf, reading and stumbling through the opening paragraphs, and putting it back on the shelf, until the day came when I pushed past the beginning and got into the main flow of the story, which was much more readable. I might not have given the book these many chances if I had not walked past it so many times at school.

I discovered some children’s authors through the school library that I didn’t encounter during my trips to the bookstore. Tanith Lee’s “The Castle of Dark” drew me in with its immersive storytelling, Jacqueline Wilson’s “The Lottie Project” and “Double Act” took me on fun-filled journeys, and Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth” enchanted me by reminding me of Alice in Wonderland. There were books I still remember fondly, quick reads I’ve forgotten and long reads that were forgettable, books I recommended to all my friends to read, and books I told them to ignore in favor of better reads. I still remember picking up “How to write really badly” by Anne Fine, loving it and popularizing it among my friends. One of them went on to mention the book in her autograph to me at the end of school. In short, the school library was a world of wonder for me.

Not so the college library. While the Pakistani system of having “intermediate” education places you beyond school but before undergraduate studies, choosing the pre-medical major also places you firmly in the science bracket. This meant that I couldn’t borrow art books from the library, something that came as an unpleasant discovery when I took an art book to the library desk. While I realize now that this was just the librarian making a poor excuse to protect her expensive art book from being checked out from the library (what good it would be for it to spend its life collecting dust on the shelf, nobody knows), at the time I didn’t challenge it. I cried angry tears and moved on. Needless to say, I didn’t have anywhere near a fulfilling experience with that library as I did with my school one.

My undergraduate college library held textbooks and only textbooks. No novels, leisure reading or anything of the sort. I only visited it to get access to reference books, most of which could only be read in the library itself. My library-less years extended from college life to a few years beyond it. When I moved to America, land of the public libraries, my reading life was on the brink of a great change. Little did I know this, until one day someone told me a captivating nugget of information that transformed my reading life: you could borrow ebooks through an app by using your library card. The full story is chronicled in the next Book Tales. Until then, happy reading, and wherever you are, I hope you have access to a library of books, whether public or your own.

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Where to begin!


“Still going through those files, Grn? I thought you weren’t interested in those.”

“Oh, but Zlt, I am fascinated.”

“I do understand that to be a fine piece of fhlp-work on the cover…”

“No, no! It’s the people, Zlt, the people! They are almost a race in themselves. I cannot stop reading about them.”

“I must record this in the annals of the Old Files. Someone actually interested in reading them! We haven’t pulled those out since that investigation into how they ended up destroying the whole planet.”

“I’m not talking about the whole race, Zlt. Just a section of them, it is called a… a country, I suppose…”

“Eh? So what’s the name of this…country?”

“Ah, we must give it to the learned ones to decipher, it is beyond me. As far as I can make it, they never managed to live up to that name themselves.”

“What’s so fascinating about them, then?”

“What isn’t fascinating about them, Zlt! They had such a unique system; it was impossible for them to survive in it on their own. Most of these — what were they again? Yeah, countries, did most of the work themselves, but this one here, it was only sustained by the High One Himself, otherwise it couldn’t have existed.”

“This is interesting. Tell me more, Grn.”

“Well, they had a highly absorptive culture. They left the absorbing up to their little ones, and you know what kidlings are like, Zlt. They went and absorbed everything that glittered in frenzied gluttony, until even the grown ones went around in the delusion that the traditions so plentifully absorbed were their own.”

“They must have had very fascinating celebrations.”

“That was what I was reading about when you came up, Zlt. It was about a certain very interesting and singular event of these people.”

“What was it like?”

“It was an event of the spring. But what makes it even more fascinating is the remarkable ingenuity of these people. It was a characteristic of theirs that they blew up anything and everything into immensely great proportions. This spring-festival did not escape that rule.


During this spring festival they flowed out of their abodes in droves and into the workshops, where they vied against each other to take away the largest and the most costly of the paper birds. This is a trait that will manifest itself throughout the proceedings, Grn; their love to outstrip each other, and for finding newer and newer ways to do so. When they bought the flying tails of these paper birds, they bought rolls and rolls of them, and what is more, they bought the very same type of flying tail that their lordlings told them not to buy. Everywhere, on their picture-pieces and in their paper-pieces, it was said not to use those flying tails, but these people, they made them, and sold them, and bought them, and what is more, Grn! The very lordlings who had forbidden the use of these flying tails made use of them. The common folk, they had only to use the name of a lordling known to them, and the tail-inspectors did not confiscate the forbidden tails from them.”

“That is certainly a most singular way of proceeding, Grn.”

“That is not all! They set up enclosures in which to hold the festival, and told the people to fly their paper birds there and not on their rooftops. But…can you tell me what they did, Zlt?”

“They flew the paper birds from their rooftops!”

“Correct, my dear Zlt.”

“But did the tail-inspectors not catch them there?”

“Ah, it is the same way as with the forbidden flying tails, Grn.”

“I see now.”

“And when they flew the paper birds from their rooftops, they came in great numbers, and sent forth much noise and clamour from their ingenious wave-systems, so the people residing nearby may not sleep, and stay up all night to bask in the reflected glory of their superb flight.”

“Even the babies, Grn?”

“Even the babies! The people were not allowed to wrap their little kidlings in slumber on the night of that festival.”

“Surely they must have a great energy system, to drive all those wave-systems?”

“Ah, their energy system! I am coming to that. First let me tell you how they flew their paper birds.”

“Was that not a very simple task, Grn?”

“Oh, no, my dear Zlt.”

“Was it not a simple mounting of the paper bird on the ebb and flow of the air, and maneuvering it with the flying tail?”

“It was not the mechanics of the flight, but the previous principle that I mentioned; the
principle of outdoing each other. From each rooftop came forth larger and larger paper birds, and louder and louder clamour, and every time two paper birds’ flying tails crossed and cut, it was accompanied by the terrible war cry, ‘bo kata!'”

“A riveting scene, indeed.”

“Indeed, Zlt. What strikes me as curious was their willingness to lay life and limb on the line in pursuit of these majestic paper birds.”

“Was it not a harmless flying festival?”

“I am afraid not, Zlt. It was a matter of life and honour. The sight of a falling paper bird compelled the watcher to catch it before it struck the ground. It was a pact much honoured. “

“What a noble people, Grn.”

“Ah, that is not all. You asked about their energy system, no? It was taboo for the paper birds to be caught in the trails of this system, and many gave their lives to free a bird from the trails’ snare. Why, the festival was marked by a shutting down of this energy system, due to the snapping of a trail here or there.”

“Were the flying tails strong enough to cut the energy trails?”

“They were unkind to those who came in the way.”

“Ack! Why would they use flying tails of such horrific description?”

“That, Zlt, is beyond me. These flying tails were forbidden by the lordlings.”

“Now I see why.”

“But the people did not see. Pity.”

“But wait, Grn. Were they not told in their picture-pieces and their paper-pieces…?”

“It is a country also blind, Zlt, but that is another story.”

“One I would love to hear. Have you read enough of the spring festival?”

“There is not much more. They squabbled and speculated much over it, as they did over everything else, but they did not change anything. Every year they raised their masts to catch the winds of change, but those winds instead served to drive their paper birds higher and higher year after year.”

“A most singular nation, indeed.”

“Indeed.”

“In fact, I am beginning to look beyond the fhlp-work of these files. I must endeavour to read more about them. The happenings which they record are fascinating. Enough to keep one busy one for all eternity.”

“And since we’re three-twelfths into that, it won’t matter spending one-twelfth of eternity studying these files, no?”

“The question is only, where to begin?”

“Where indeed.”

 
 

 

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News, on February 23, 2007.

Link to original: http://jang.com.pk/thenews/feb2007-weekly/us-23-02-2007/p22.htm#1