“It smells like agarbatti and wood”, she said.

One of the earliest mythology books I bought was Myth = Mithya by Devdutt Pattnaik. Since then, I’ve wandered into Indian philosophy and her old sciences by various authors, Indian and foreign. Those old sciences and arts still exist although what we get is the pop packaged version. It is rare to find authentic practitioners amidst the din of the internet. For an inert screen, computers and phones do make a lot of noise.

The daughter had run out of books to read and I thought it might be interesting for her to get a taste of the fantastic world of Indian mythology. She took the book and in true bibliophile style, smelled the pages. I took the book to smell too and was washed not just in the fragrance of an old book but the milestones in its age.

It lived longest in an old sheesham bookcase which also housed incense sticks from various parts of the country. Some were bought on travels, others gifted by friends. Every time I opened that cupboard, there would be a whiff of wood and smoke and it always reminded me of an old ancestral home that no longer exists. That house was deep in the hills, snug at the bottom of a green jungle, all stone and wood. I remember all too few weeks with my aunt listening to stories and watching the fireflies flit until we fell asleep. Life was simple in that way. Mornings began with the smell of black coffee and the kitchen would cough up food and smoke through the day until the embers were silenced at night. There was time for stories and aimless wandering, games in the open and books.

The sheesham bookcase was abandoned but some of the books made it through the various pages of my story. Stained, yellowed and with the binding showing signs of disintegration, these old books are uncannily similar to human lives. Fresh off the press, they are sharp and crisp and as they come in contact with hands and eyes, they start to lose some of those edges and become softer, beaten and develop age spots. Hidden between their pages, you discover old notes and cards, like the one I found in this book. It was from a colleague many years ago as she was moving on to a different role.

The past never leaves us, it circles around our present and comes up for air every now and then. Like a friend once said, we live our lives in the orbits of other people.

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