Culture & Society

Beloved Books And Driftwood Art: Of Wills And Wishes

I wonder what will become of my beloved books and driftwood art after me. The thought of them being neglected or thrown away gives me jitters; more than the fear of death itself

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Photos%3A%20Romana%20Manpreet
Photos: Romana Manpreet
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I am a single man. I have no children. I have no nephews or nieces either. I don’t own a house or any land, yet. In the name of possession, I have lots of books though, and a few pieces of furniture and driftwood art.

My books are all over my house. In all my books, I have dutifully written at the top corner of the first page, my name, the date of purchase, and the city where I bought the book. This is my way of marking my possession over them. Telling friends, families, and the world in general—please don’t pick them up. They don’t belong anywhere else.

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Those who visit my home love to look at my collection of books. But every time they do that, I get nervous and frigid. What if they wish to borrow a few? My experience with borrowing has not been great. Borrowed books have rarely come back home. I am possessive about all my books. I love each one of them equally. There is no hierarchy of good or bad books in my head. My books are probably the only thing I am fiercely possessive about. I may not read all of them but I want to keep them all.

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Whenever my close friends come home and wish to borrow, I try to persuade them to spend their own money on buying books. Not everyone is convinced. I guess, some of them just want to annoy me by saying that they want to borrow my books. When nothing works, I offer to buy them the book they want. Parting with my marked books is the last resort. It is painful. It is like taking away a part of me, my memories away from me while I guard them closely.

I wonder what will become of my beloved books after me. The thought of them being neglected or thrown away gives me the jitters; more than the fear of death itself. I have a few good friends. Maybe I can will them away to their kids if they are nice to me. But not many kids these days read books. And there is no guarantee they will be nice to me. They will probably curse me for leaving just some old books for them and not some money. Maybe I should check with my school or the college. They may show some interest, if not the same amount of love I have for my books.

I have never seen a will. No one in my immediate family ever made one. I have not heard of anyone even in my distant family making one. Both my grandparents died intestate. It was assumed that their kids (males) would sit and divide the property among themselves amicably with the help of elders and family members. My parents have not made one either. They have never mentioned it; I have never asked them about it. I don’t want them to even remotely think that I am interested in their properties. I am not.

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Since I have started thinking about wills, I also have a few doubts. Fortunately, I have a few lawyer friends who can clear these doubts for me. They can also help me draft a will whenever I am ready. I don’t know if they have drafted a will for single men before. I doubt they have. It may be a good experience for them, too—both personally and professionally.

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I wonder if there is a possibility of a unilateral will. What happens if one wants to give away but the intended recipient is not interested in receiving it? Can, say, my college be forced to keep my books and care for them, if not love them as much as I do?

Maybe I will try and put a conditional clause in my will, whenever I make one. If the college is uninterested, it can give away my books to any public library it wishes. It will be their headache then. In my head, I would have found a home for my books. They won’t be left orphaned, torn, and scattered all over.

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Now, about my furniture and driftwood art; I am still not sure what to do with them. I picked up most of the stuff when I was posted for a long time in Chandrapur, a tribal-dominated forest district in eastern Vidarbha in Maharashtra.

I may not have any favourites in books but I do have clear favourites as far as my driftwood art is concerned. I love the horse head made of a single waste teak piece that I have. The only addition the artist made to it was to put a stone for the eye of the horse. It is not the most natural representation of a horse head, but I find it raw and majestic.

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The moth-eaten wooden photo frame hanging on my wall looks like a work of great intricacy and artisanship. The driftwood table I have has a beautiful natural shape and design weathered by years of rain and water. I had picked up that piece of waste wood from a water body inside the forest. Some of my friends get these works of art, or at least appreciate them. Many do not. Some think it’s a waste of money on waste. After all, driftwood art is the art from waste.

I would love to donate them to some public gallery. But the concept of art and beauty is so subjective. A great piece of art in my eyes may mean nothing to the gallery, or to others. Maybe I should catalogue everything I have with pictures and send it to a few institutions that may have some interest in them. Hopefully, like my books, they will find a home, too.

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I have come to understand that a will also needs an executor; like a project that needs to be executed. I am guessing, the executor is, in all likelihood, one’s confidant who one can trust to faithfully execute the will. All my confidants, including my brother, are either older than me or of the same age as me. There is no guarantee that they will be around when I am gone. I have a few younger friends, too; younger than me by five-six years. They could probably step in. Or, my friends’ kids will probably make for good executors. I will rope them in and leave some of my savings for them. This may incentivise them to be diligent in finding a home for my books and art pieces.

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Other than my books and driftwood pieces, if I end up owning anything, I guess, I will leave it as a token of gratitude for the ‘mai baap’ state I have the honour to work for while serving as a civil servant.

(This appeared in the print as 'Wills And Wishes')

Ashutosh Salil is an IAS officer

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