Similar to the mimicry of life by art, sometimes a book in our hands can acutely imitate the arcs of the love story we are in, ourselves—like the time a ghost lover stole a paperback Frankenstein from the neighborhood café as a last minute birthday gift for me, while our alliance reeked of haunted loneliness and painful assertions, or when one of my friends, a doctor by day and an avid reader by night, spoke about his first encounter with Harry Potter and the "cute, sweet girl across the hall." Their story is simple—when he was a young boy, he met a pretty girl who liked Harry Potter. Years later when they rekindled the flame, it quickly fizzled out because his "left-leaning principles were not too compatible with a mind shooting for a life in the corporate world" but also because he realised that "even after all those years the last book she had read and the book she talks about still is Harry Potter." This particular reflection stands out to me because it says a lot about our love-hate relationship with Rowling's magnum opus and the fact that though we grew up reading about the many shenanigans of the Chosen One, we can't help but wince a little whenever we see the book making headlines now, often for the wrong and highly politically incorrect reasons.
Over Sunday brunch, a poet with gold rimmed glasses and an unending love for Camus gleefully tells me about her blooming love affair infused with poetry—her partner and she recited Khalil Gibran to each other during Nilkhet book hauls and rickshaw rides around Dhaka city. Another soul sister lets me into the memory of her first love from school days, saying, "I picture a room full of paper. I recall poetry—painstakingly crafted, repeatedly redrafted and sealed with a final brush of a pair of pale, chapped lips." These perfectly narrated scenarios spiked with just the right dose of fiction remind me that books always, inevitably, find a way to assign itself as the crux of our love stories.
On the other hand, sometimes books work as the perfect bridge between two people. A fellow writer with a brilliant pen animatedly talks about her visit to a quaint little branch of the Kinokuniya bookshop in Thailand. "I spotted a book the size of a boulder on the top shelf at the very back of the store, and collected an impressive number of bruises trying to climb all the way to the top. I think he finally took pity on me and fetched a step-ladder. I climbed up, grabbed my treasure, whooped in excitement, and promptly dropped it on him. In hindsight, the concussion might explain why we went out for a while." I had quite a hearty laugh and asked about what happened of their shared romance. With a yawn she told that he got married and she sent him a vase at his wedding.
When we think of lovers going rogue, the ephemerality tends to almost always hold a sense of forlornness; but this anecdote was anything but that—it gave me great pleasure upon realising that meet cutes at bookstores aren't just limited to '90s romcoms as a lot of cynics would assume. "He loved Dickens, I loved Bronte, and we smelled like coffee and old paper," my friend said of her love story.
Along the same strain, a bookseller very dear to me told me of his love story fondly—one that is garnished with verses from the Romantics to the Postmodernists alike. "I told her I was reading Knausgaard, and she told me about a paper she was writing on Buddhadeva Bose and Baudelaire. The first time we had our proper meeting was at Mohammadpur's Charcha, the bookshop that had brought us together. The first gifts we gave each other were books—me, Giorgio Agamben's The Kingdom and the Garden, and her, the Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. The first time we talked over the phone, she read me poems by Frank O'Hara. Books somehow find their way into all of our conversations."
This sketch was particularly personal to me. Be it "Tread softly for you tread on my dreams", a bit of essential Yeats scribbled up in yellow legal pads and passed on to the fellow bibliophile with askew glasses and cute smiles, a slim copy of Maggie Nelson's meditation on the colour blue, or a chunky volume of Elliot arriving as surprise mail, my romantic associations also tend to be intertwined with the smell of vanilla lignin and literature.
In another—arguably one of the most special—rendition of literature bringing people together, my mother talks about her sojourns to the annual Ekushey book fair during her youth with my father. She reminisces: "I would always wear sarees and occasionally don my hair with flowers while going to the fair. We "red-book minded" people had no affiliation with expensive editions! He bought me a simple newspaper print of Aamlokir Mou by Dilara Hashem, told me how the protagonist is my namesake and about how she held an ample amount of similarity with me." When asked about why she shared that particular memory, my mother went into a deep dive of how it was one of the first books which she and my father bonded over as well as the last one they conversed about, just one day before his demise. Upon keenly observing the desolate look on my mother's features and the waning pink of her attire, it became quite palpable to me that Sarah, the protagonist's bravado and rebellious streaks sat well with the crimson hues of my mother's personality and sarees alike, as well as on the comradeship my parents shared.
Other tales of books and love I stumbled across included twee lit majors adorned with tinkling teacups giving their battered down editions of Pride and Prejudice as keepsakes to their brooding Darcys, an aspiring journalist getting confused upon getting a copy of Gone Girl from her boyfriend, a Da Vinci Code being the reason of tired eye rolls, and grandparents exchanging books before vows, etched with endearingly curt messages and inundated with adoration. As I write this piece on a lovely spring afternoon filled with colours of red oleanders and the dizzying aroma of honeysuckle, I cannot help but wonder about the myriad of memories of love surrounding a particular book or the recollections which are pressed within its delicate pages like dried roses from a lifetime ago. It is next to impossible to spell romance without literature, I might as well assert that we owe the entire concept of romance to these beauties we call books.
Jahanara Tariq is a postgrad student of English Literature. Her hobbies include having caffeine while listening to Vivaldi's "Winter" and praying to the ghost of Tagore on desolate mornings.