The book from Oxford

New Delhi

My mother’s father was always Daddy to us, my sister and I. One of the fondest memories I have of our time spent together is of him with his walking stick and I, making our way from his house to the Empire Store at the neighborhood market some 10 minutes away. We did this walk in Delhi’s Greater Kailash often. Maybe to buy sweets for me I suppose, I can’t seem to remember now.

My sister and I did not spend our childhood in India, so for us, time spent with our maternal and paternal grandparents, was either during the long summer breaks, or over the significantly shorter winter ones. Hem Chand Mahindra, Daddy grew up in Ludhiana, one among 8 siblings. From what I know, two of the brothers, my grandfather included, went overseas after college for their Master’s degrees. His brother, K.C., going to Cambridge, Daddy choosing Oxford. My grandfather graduated in Philosophy, Politics & Economics (PPE) from St. John’s College, Oxford in 1925. Daddy headed Burmah-Shell India, headquartered In Delhi under which he and his family had the pleasure to live on Aurangzeb Lane and then Aurangzeb Road, now Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road.

Once Daddy retired, the family moved to Shanti Niketan and then to Greater Kailash. My grandfather passed away in 1988 when I was eight years old so I do not remember much. However, whatever I do, has left a distinct impression. We grew up surrounded by books. Books were important, educational, and a form of entertainment. My sister and I received books on important occasions like birthdays, Diwali, Christmas, always inscribed with place and date and often with a short note.

In January 2019, while rummaging through my mother’s collection, I found an old looking book belonging to Daddy. The book is probably from his time at Oxford. I would guess that this particular book was either part of a larger collection of books given to my mother by Daddy (his copy of Autobiography of a Yogi being one) or somehow found its way into a box of belongings bequeathed to her on his passing. I think books were often given, back in the day. I honestly haven’t thought about why. Both sides, my mother’s parents-aunts-uncles and my father’s parents-aunts-uncles went to college so I think it was a natural present to give. And the entire family was inclined towards it.

The beige, thin cloth canvas bound book has the title, SYMBOLISM, ITS MEANING AND EFFECT, by A. N. Whitehead embossed on the cover in black. With “Hem C Mahindra. Oxford. 1928” handwritten in ink on the partly stained page inside. Alfred North Whitehead was an English Mathematicians and Philosopher, best known as the defining figure of the philosophical school known as process philosophy, which has found application to a wide variety of disciplines today, including amongst others education, physics, economics, and psychology. It appears to be a first edition, published in 1927 by Cambridge University Press. 102 pages not including the dedications and preface.

I will probably read it at some point in my life. For the time being, it has a new home in the small library at my studio in New Delhi.

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