Tuesday, July 10, 2018

School books and the brown covers

The other day as my husband and I were going for our walk, my attention was suddenly caught by a group of little boys who were sitting on the steps of a shop on the roadside busy doing something. They were so absorbed in what they were doing that they seemed to be totally oblivious of the screeching traffic, people scurrying past them or vendors shouting at the top of their voices. Curiosity aroused, I got closer only to see that these little boys were totally immersed in covering school books with brown paper!

I remembered my school days. A week before school reopened, we used to get our notebooks and textbooks for the new session. The first thing I used to do was to rapidly scan all my textbooks to see what the content was. New books were handled in a very sacred manner. Ever so carefully the pages were turned and not flipped so as not to crease the pages. While reading, books were not folded and though we had never heard of bookmarks, we would remember the page number and never would we fold the top corner of the page. It was a sacrilege! The crisp pages and the smell of the new books was something which I used to immensely enjoy.

The next step that would follow was the annual ritual of covering these books with brown sheets or in other words this was the homemade version of bookbinding! It was a ritual which my sisters and I enjoyed. Mom had taught us how to bind the books.

It is an art. Sitting on the floor with all the books beside us, all of us would spread the brown paper on the floor, keep the book that was to be bound and cut the brown paper accordingly. It was then folded neatly on all sides. Finally, when all the books were neatly covered, we would move on to the next step, that of sticking labels on the right-hand corner of the book.  At that time labels were not on sticker papers as they are today, but had to be stuck using gum. Once it was stuck and dry, in our neatest possible handwriting we used to write our name, class, section, subject, and the name of the school. Lo and behold the books thus covered would be stacked neatly in the cupboards! These books were used day in and day out through the year and after the first session used to get over if any of the books required rebinding, then we used to do it again.

When my children started their school years, this same ritual was followed. They would sit beside me and watch me bind their books. As they grew a little older they learnt to cover the books with brown paper themselves. When it came to labels, stationary shops were raided to get the labels of their choice depending on their favorite cartoon programme. Yes, instead of the ordinary plain labels that we used to have during our times they now had the choice of colorful cartoon characters and depending on the flavor of the season they had Noddy, Bob the Builder, Pokemon labels and so on.

Also read: Books - a child's best friend

But as they stepped into high school, this ritual sadly came to a stop and was limited to only their record books. Their notebooks had the school logo on it and they were instructed not to bind it. The textbooks available in the market were of such poor quality that they wouldn't even last for one session and hence we needed to get them bound professionally. So the ritual was that of going to the roadside cobbler ( Yes, you heard it right) and get the books stitched by him to retain the pages for at least one whole year! This was followed by a visit to the bookbinder's shop where the books were then bound in a hard plastic sheet.

I remember my friend to whom we had passed on our kids' textbooks, calling up to ask where and how we used to get the textbooks bound so well. So I let her in on our little secret on the longevity of our books.

I do not see this art being carried on by future generations as everything is digital now! The physical textbooks might be replaced by e-books and just like so many other fun family activities this too will vanish slowly. So that seems sadly the end of our annual ritual which my kids and I used to enjoy so immensely.


FinSecAdvisor said...

Glad to see that you started blogging again Shobhana.

This post about binding with brown covers reminded me of my childhood,brought back nostalgic moments and alongwith them the fragrance of the freshly printed text books and feel of the crisp papers in the notebooks

I remember govt note books sometimes were like blotting paper that would suck in more ink from the nib (fountain) pen, so one became more conscious to ensure notes are not spoilt by switching over to a ball point pen.

Dad helped us by taking us to a printer-friend who helped us by hard-binding the text books
Many years later when I traced back one of them I cherished the golden period of school days.

Around the same time just before schools would reopen, the City Central Library at Chikkadpally would bring new story books, comics, in their children's section, and the joy of reading them in those small chairs was an experience by itself.

Thanks for posting this which enabled me to visit my childhood and return quickly, energised like a child full of positivity, and start work for the day.

shobhana shenoy said...

Thanks Ganesh. Wonderful memories aren't they? These simple reminiscences bring so much of joy to us even today. Good to read about your experiences.