Josna Rege

342. Inscriptions

In Books, Britain, Childhood, Family, Greece, India, parenting, reading, Stories, Words & phrases, writing on September 6, 2015 at 4:11 pm

My father has trained us to inscribe every book we present him, and if we forget, he never hesitates to instruct us—insistentlyIMG_2830 —to do so. As a result, I too am in the habit of writing a personal inscription in every book intended as a gift, one that I hope the recipient will keep, treasure, and re-read.

It saddens me when I find books left at the Book Shed (aka our town dump) with their flyleaves intimately inscribed by grandparents or (ex-) lovers. I myself would find it exceedingly hard to part with such a book. Perhaps this is part of the reason why inscriptions are becoming a lost art: our throwaway culture demands an unmarked commodity that can be discarded or resold more readily, without leaving a trace of its past.

Here are a few of the inscriptions in my books, books all the more beloved for them. Each one takes me back to a time and a place and reminds me of the giver, what it meant to him or her and what s/he hoped that it might mean to me.

In A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, sent to Kharagpur, West Bengal, India from England (by sea mail via Suez, no doubt):

Sent to India from England (sea mail via Suez, no doubt)

In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women:

endpapers, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women

endpapers, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

bearing the inscription:



And in this book, at my request, an inscription to Nikhil, from the late great Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand, written at his home in Khandala, Maharashtra.


Did I say that book inscriptions were becoming a lost art? Some of the most beautiful ones I’ve found today have been written by Nikhil and members of his generation. Theirs are inscribed in my heart and I am reluctant to wear them on my sleeve.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. […] my old edition just now to photograph Pranab’s inscription, I turned to the title page and came upon something I had never before noticed: my childhood Little […]


  2. I always feel a little sad, too, when I see used books with inscriptions in them, especially heartfelt ones that cannot be that old. There are so many possibilities: indifference, the end of a friendship, death of the recipient, or an inadvertency that will later be regretted. But I love to pick up such books when they’re old, especially if they have underlinings in text and markings in the margins and you can hear somebody thinking long, long ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, so well expressed, Sarah. Yes, you’re right–it’s the more recently inscribed discard that are disconcerting, while the old ones are fascinating and add to the value, and the mystery, for me. I love “you can hear somebody thinking long, long ago.” Thank you for having figured out how to post again!


  3. What a delight to find a note from you in here, Jaya! Talk about lovely old memories!
    Wish you could have been with us at the recent reunion we had in North Carolina of all ages
    and classes from MH days. We had a wonderful time and the place we were in was somewhat suggestive of our memories of Darjeeling with the mists rising up from the Teesta valley in the early mornings through the beautiful blooming rhododendrons and little babbling brooks which accompanied the trails through the hills. It was quite magical for all of us, and we thought of our other class members, and beloved and not so beloved teachers from long ago! Are you still in Dehra Dun? Please write and tell me how you are doing! My address is below.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. aah, the aroma of old books imbue this post. I love going to the used books dealer and find books with their inscriptions that set you to imagining the giver and the receiver. Trying to make room on the shelves, I just can’t discard anything. I put some in a metal trunk into the store. Then once in a while you re-find them like forgotten treasures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Jaya, looking for something on the shelves one day, I found a book (Around the World in 80 Days, I think it was) inscribed for me by Preet Mander and Savita Palriwala. Imagine the emotions it stirred up! Aah, the metal trunk!


      • I should make that a plural many times over and add a couple of nearly defunct steel cupboards that live in the garage and house the spillover! These are my real treasures. It must have been a joy to find that book inscribed by Preet and Savita half a lifetime along and way across the world. In the pre-digital, unconnected world (olden days?) such items were the memory capsules.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great idea! I will be looking through my childhood books to copy the inscriptions. My mother used to give us books on birthdays and holidays and inscribed them all. I did likewise with my kids books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kristin, I can imagine you making a kind of family tree of inscriptions through the generations! I stumbled upon the idea while looking for books for a completely different story. In so doing I found books with such moving inscriptions in them that I had to write about them instead.


  6. I shall keep the children’s classics inscribed for me by my parents, to pass on I hope to grandkids or their kids, but I’m learning slowly to be unsentimental about books I don’t value or intend to reread — and they’re not inscribed. Thanks to you I want to search out the former, including a copy of ‘Kim’ which has so far eluded me …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good plan. In looking through the old books today, I noticed how few of them had inscriptions (not counting my own, that is). And following you, I will remind myself that I need not be sentimental about the others either (excluding the Puffins and the vintage Penguins, that is!).

      Liked by 1 person

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