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His Love For Books Reads Like Poetry

Paru Venkat and Alagappa Rammohan pose for a portrait after their StoryCorps interview in Chicago on June 23, 2018.
Paru Venkat and Alagappa Rammohan pose for a portrait after their StoryCorps interview in Chicago on June 23, 2018.

Alagappa Rammohan has amassed enough books over the course of his life to fill a library. In his estimation, he has 10,000 — everything from religious texts to quantum physics.

In a StoryCorps interview taped this summer in Chicago, Rammohan, 79, spoke with his daughter, Paru Venkat, 50, who tells him that one of her earliest memories involves his love for books. She remembers asking him to help her with her homework.

"I think of ... you looking at my textbooks and falling in love with the textbook and reading it almost from cover to cover — and only answering my question hours later," she says. "So where does that come from?"

Rammohan, who immigrated from India to the United States in 1962, tells her that when he was child, his parents would give him a rupee to spend how he wanted.

"You know what I do with that? I don't buy candy or anything. I just go to the stall where they sell children's books, and I like all of them," he says. Whenever he received a rupee, he would go to the stall and try to buy as many books as he could. One day, he was able to buy eight books.

And when he would crack the books open, he wouldn't dive right in.

"You know what I do? Even today I do this. I don't start reading the first page. I smell it," he says. "The fresh book, printed from the press, untouched, I open, I smell it. That's my connection with the book."

Alagappa Rammohan poses at the site of the ancient Great Library at Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt in 2013. Rammohan is planning on building a library — in Chennai, India, his hometown — where the 10,000 books he's collected will go when he dies.
/ Courtesy of Alagappa Rammohan
Alagappa Rammohan poses at the site of the ancient Great Library at Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt in 2013. Rammohan is planning on building a library — in Chennai, India, his hometown — where the 10,000 books he's collected will go when he dies.

Books, he says, became his friends.

"I feel that the author is talking to me," he says.

He says he sees books as a sacred transfer of knowledge from one person to another. "It doesn't force you to read, but it is there," he says.

Rammohan says that reading books allowed him to see many perspectives.

"If you want to give anybody something, the very best, give a book. It opened for me how to live," he says.

Audio produced forMorning Edition by Kelly Moffitt.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org .

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