Books Underlined

At the world renowned National Library, Calcutta, there was a mild and witty instruction to the readers: " Please don't underline and write anything. Pens and pencils are arrows that prick the souls of books."  I don't know why this beautiful instruction is not there any longer. This is indeed a worldwide habit, rather a common human trait, to mark and underline while reading a fascinating, often a thought-provoking book. American writer and humorist Mark Twain used to say that, " Those, who underline are far better than those who steal (the books).' " I fully agree with Twain. Though by underlining or incorporating one's own thoughts and notes in a book, the beauty of it gets slightly damaged, it still remains intact. At least pages are not torn or lost.

Moreover, readers get to read and know a few more fresh perspectives from mostly unknown readers and writers. At the University Library, Berlin, there's a Vulgate Bible with notes of Martin Luther King, Sr. He pencilled them in the margin in his almost inscrutable handwriting. At the world-renowned Khudabakhsh Library, Patna, there's a copy of Allama Iqbal's Persian masterpiece 'Baal-e-Jibreel' (The wings of Gabriel). The book is full of scribbles by none other than Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpuri, when he was the Head of the Department of English at Patna University. Those scribbles were compiled by the poet and librarian of Khudabakhsh, Jameel Mazhari. Firaq's scribbles are now available in a slim but sublime book 'Taasuraat-e-Baal-e-Jibreel' (Thoughts on Baal-e-Jibreel). 

Writing and pencilling in a book is not that bad a habit. One of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who was a poet, professor of English and editor, was in the habit of writing very relevant notes while reading a book. He seldom maintained a separate diary and wrote in the books instead!!! I myself stumbled upon a book of Urdu poetry by Ravish Siddiqi, an Aligarh poet. That book had a number of similar couplets written by some unknown reader. It helped me analyse Ravish's poetry with respect to that of his contemporaries. I'm still thankful to that reader, who didn't mention his name. Had he mentioned, I'd certainly have thanked him in person. Great literature is full of insights and a book contains many of them, yet there remains inadequacy. 

When a book has additional notes scribbled by known or unknown readers, the value of it increases manifold. Someone rightly said, " When a book's heavily underlined, it underlines its importance." You don't underline a Mills and Boon novel or a book written by Chetan Bhagat. It's to have something to be underlined and scribbled.         

                                                   -----Sumit Paul