Heaven is on the Third Floor

Something brilliant happened on an ordinary school day. Pari was taken to the library. She was at the grand old age of nine years and had begun to find pockets of boredom in things around her.

Pari was not a popular kid. Quite the opposite. Her classmates teased her relentlessly, and rather stupidly. “Pari is like bitter curry!” to which she scoffed weakly at- however, later told her mother- “They call me curry, mummy!” and would tear up. Her mother, who had given her the name because of its ethereal appeal, was worried. She would, albeit well-meaningly, respond to that by one of her pithy remarks she’d picked up from the society mama friends she looked up to- “You should not stoop to their level darling. Show them your class”. Which, come to think of it, was neither here nor there. Pari ultimately learnt that a homework or two in the commode tank, and a dead cockroach in her pencil box was okay. At least they didn’t put anything icky in her hair. Yet.

She moved about with her two best friends. Who perhaps had it worse than her. They were also rather enthusiastic in class. They knew about photosynthesis and algebra. Physical education class was the bane of their existence. It was all they could do not to slouch and curl up and to practically disappear. Moving their gangly limbs and being reprimanded by the teacher in front of the class was something they dreaded.

Her school was small compared to the other schools- It did not have a big yard or a fancy cafeteria. The library, although austere and contained, felt opulent and classy. They were led in a line where they were admonished whenever they tittered too much. The librarian, Mrs. Khan, was supposed to be strict. So strict that she could send them to the principal! To upstanding, or more to the point, corner-seat preferring straight laced little girls, this was a scary prospect.

There was a lovely smell in the air. A quietness that made Pari want to stop fidgeting for once. They were explained the rules of the library – an awful lot of rules. That was the tough part. After that, they could choose a book from the countless shelves so heavily laden with books that the middle of the shelves looked like they would break. She could pick anything! She’d read books before, a few of them. They were…okay, if a little bland. The book with the bright pink spine, that was bound to be interesting, or the one that looked tattered, she thought. Only a shell of what it would have been years and years ago- maybe that would be the one overlooked by everyone and somehow, only she would find the greatness of it.

Pari asked her friend excitedly what she was going to pick. Whispered to her, really.  This was an important decision! Library rules dictated that she keep mum, so she went back to making this a solitary activity. She’d finally picked one up and got to my seat. She opened it and again there was that strange, potent, musty smell. Pari took in a big breath.

Pari does not remember the book and the story, I’m willing to bet. It would just not be true. She couldn’t remember anything beyond the excitement she was feeling. Everyone sitting and reading together, it was a lovely atmosphere. Before she could make much progress with her book (purple cover with beautiful illustrations) the time was up. She could take the book home with her, but she’d have to bring a newspaper and wrap the book neatly so as to not spoil the book, Mrs. K said.

The next day when Pari reached school, she could hardly contain herself. She could get it home! She supposed this would be how her friend felt about her dog Toffee. She reached the library and looked for the book. It wasn’t there. Someone else had obviously liked it and had taken it home. She never laid eyes on that book again. It left her heartbroken. But she finally found another book, this one made up for its shabby cover by being extra smelly. She often went to the library in all the times she could find and would let the stillness fall over her. Letting stories wrap their enticing arms around her.

She could do it, she thought. She read a little bit of Nancy Drew and protested the broken pencil. She remembered and rebelled at the names they called her. She used what they called fancy schmancy words. She laughed at them. She read like it was the only thing sustaining her. The only nourishment she cared about. On and on she went. Charlie’s adventure in the chocolate factory, Mowgli’s thrilling life in the jungle, the little prince’s solitude, Heidi’s free spirit, and Alice’s wandering. Borrowing books and returning them. Borrowing a little something from the books itself. Pari was now teased with “Pari who reads in a hurry”. She told her mum about it “Mummy! they say I read in a hurry!” and broke into a grin.

 

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