Eight Books or Then and Now or You owe..
(A nostalgic look at books, libraries and ..)

It happened again. I now have fines at the Cleveland Public Library. Being an avid reader, over the years I have become a member of various libraries. All libraries whWhich has now when I think of it a hobby of its own. I somehow feel an itch when there is some library that I can but have not yet become a member. The thought being, that a different library has quite a different selection of books, which are hard to find in the libraries that I am already a member of.

Pune circa 1988
The United Services Library or the Poona Club library was where I hung out most evenings. My only grouse against the libary as kid whilst growing up, was that they had a limit of 8 books. I was like Kipling's elephant child full of 'satiable curtiosities' and here we had the librarian saying,
'You already have 7 books on issue, so now you can take only one book'
'One book?', I would say looking wistfully at my 'treasure trove' of the eight books, painstakingly unearthed and which were now piled upon his desk.
Then I would look at the librarian with the best 'lost-puppy' eyes I could manage. There would be a few moments of silence, as the librarian would look at register, then at me and then at the pile of books.
'Okay, take two more books and make sure you return the others by tomorrow.'
My heart would leap joy yet I never felt like hugging the librarian. He was the 'enemy'. This would pose the dilemma - which ones out of the eight would make the cut? One of the librarians was a really strict chap, who would not say much. Once in a while could be cajoled but to make his point about The Rule, he would write in big, bold letters in red ink on the top of the register. '8 BOOKS only'. Librarians have that power. That evening, I knew would be a familiar family fight over who was hogging the the quota. Then an agreement would be reached. My father would return his unread books so that his son's would not grow up deprived and also not create such a racket. That was all later, after I went home. There were more urgent things to do.
After the choices were made, naturally I had to return the other books back to the shelves. The children's section then, and even now, was never arranged. The books were all over the shelves. Now you can imagine, why I would not want to part with these treasures accumulated after about an hour of searching. What does a desperate man do in such circumstances? I hid them. This being a regular occurence, I had devised this foolproof method of hiding books. What I did was to take about 6-7 books out of the shelf and place one of 'my' books with it side flat against the back of the shelf. Then replace those 6-7 books as they are usually stacked. Now my book was hidden behind. Its quite a good trick. I would come back the next day and retrieve the books after having returned the other books. It was almost foolproof, cause I discovered that the books on the lower shelves were being 'lost'. It seems that the pesky brats about half my 4'2" then, would often rip the lower shelves, thus exposing my 'booty' to other predators.
As I got older and was able to cycle further out I became a member of more libraries. This helped me circumvent these artificial restrictions that were blocking my growth as an individual. Hah!

Ann Arbor, MI circa 2002
'You mean.. there is no limit on the number of books!!'
'Yes', said the librarian.
I promptly went downstairs and got nine books, for the obvious symbolic reasons. Of course, now I no longer had the time to plough through the books, as before. When I had when I was 4'2". That's the damn problem with life. When you need something the most either you can't afford it, are disallowed it or you are under-age. Later when you can afford it, are allowed it and are of the right age you don't have the time or worse, none of the former inclination.
Now I borrowed more and read less. Also the University of Michigan has a 6 month loan period for certain books. I read them eventually, slowly but surely. Perhaps 8 books are took much to read. A week has only seven days right? But some habits die hard. As if, the 14 libraries of the U of M, including the Inter-library loan system(ILL) were not enough I become member of the Ann Arbor Public Library (AADL). It's a hobby remember? But it's an expensive one as I have realised but not learning my lesson.

Despite changes in borrowing privileges, one thing has not changed - having to pay fines. Over all these years and after borrowing hundreds of books, we as a family (admission of collective guilt is always easier) lost only 4-5 books, but we paid a lot of fines. Even with the quota of 8 books then. Something inherently pathological, that me and my family were always late in returning books. Often after paying hefty fines, at the end of every year, we would all be on the mend. Then like drug addicts we would slowly be sucked back into our old habits. Some book would be read, left in some shelf or mixed with our own numerous books and would resurface after months. Mostly the effort of my mother to arrange our rooms. At Michigan, inspite of having the facility to renew online, even call and renew books, I have still have fines (let's be polite and not mention the amount).

I bike back to the Cleveland Public library to return some of the books after getting their missive with 'You have 3 books and 1 CD overdue. You owe $__ in fines'. In less than 8 weeks, I have managed to defray the costs of another library by paying fines.
I am at the counter trying to do some damage control and return the late materials 10 minutes before closing time.
'I have some fines that I would like to pay', I tell the librarian as she peeks through her bifocals.
'Okay let me see..what we have here.'
I wait there, as she checks the record. I know that once money had changed hands, my slate at this library atleast will be wiped clean. I firmly decide that I won't let this happen again.
'Okay, you're all set', she says.
'I took it all off. You owe nothing', so saying she smiles.
'Mmm..Thanks..Thanks a lot', I mumble shocked by this angel in bifocals wondering how I did not notice her halo before.
I walk back as if I just received a pardon from the death sentence. Of course, I won't let this won't happen again, ever.

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