While I was growing up, my parents always had one room of our current house or apartment set apart from the rest. This room was always quiet, kept in a neat order, and showed a much greater attention to detail that the rest of the living space: the nicest furniture, only a few tasteful paintings on the wall, careful lighting. Strict rules were enforced in this room: no eating, no shoes, no yelling or running or fighting with your sister.
The reason why this room was so special was the altar at one end. This was always placed directly across from the entrance, so that it was the first thing you saw when you entered the room, and everything else was positioned in a way to compliment this altar. On it were my family’s deities, and a few framed portraits. Small wooden arches carved like Hindu temples housed them. For a few years, our tulsi plant stood next to the altar. My parents tried to worship the deities regularly: bathing them and changing their clothes, giving them offerings of food and flowers, performing arotika and kirtana.
The reverence for this room, its sparse decoration compared to the rest of our crowded home, and the presence of these deities gave it a qualitatively different feel from anywhere else. Guests seemed to sense the difference of this room even when they didn’t understand the altar, and I was often embarrassed when trying to explain what everything was to my friends.
Over the years this room changed as my parents became less rigorous in their religious practice. At first, it was neglected; then it began to be invaded by foreign objects: musical instruments. At first this seemed to make sense, since after all this was where we kept the kartalas, harmonium, and drums for kirtana, but then it began to hold instruments that we didn’t use for sacred music. Tambalas, a recorder, my mother’s flute, my sister’s harp, and then a growing number of keyboards. Next to the shelf where religious texts like the Srimad Bhagavatam were kept, we placed musical scores and other music books.
Then, when we moved to our current house a few years ago, we didn’t set up the altar, and we bought our first real, acoustic piano to put in its place. But the room’s feel did not change. We still had the shelf of religious books, and the fragility of the expensive instruments made most of the same rules of conduct for the room still apply. Only where before the room had been silent, now you could hear, daily, the sound of scales and arpeggios on the piano.
However, I think some of the reason why the room did not seem to change even after its contents were exchanged is because of my parents’ values. Once, they valued those deities very highly, and respected their presence. But long before my parents even knew what these deities represented or felt devoted to any religion, they loved music. They honored their instruments and the space that held them as something that you might call sacred. And although the room has now moved into the attic to escape the encroachment of Chrysoberyl and Topaz’s toys, you can still sense their feelings about music there in the care that they take.
For a long time I have had a dream that, when I have my own home, I want to have a room set apart. At first, I expect that this will have to be only one part of a room, as it was for my parents, but I want to create a space that feels qualitatively different: someplace respected, somewhere sacred. I want people to see or walk into this space and feel the change, the attention to detail that I have worked on.
In my sacred space, I will not have musical instruments or an altar with deities. What I truly value, and have loved for as long as I can remember, are books. Books are my passion: old or new, paperback or hardbound, worn or crisp, illustrated or pristine, stories or nonfiction. I loved the way that books smell, their weight in my hands, the neatness of words on the page. I walk into a library or a bookstore and see the walls lined with shelves, and I am overcome with awe every time. I can spend hours just browsing through books, touching every cover, and relishing in the endless possibilities for reading. My friends know how dangerous a bookstore is for me: I spend far too much time and money in them if I am not careful, regardless of whether or not I can afford these luxuries. I leave a library with my shoulders bowed under the weight of as many books as I can carry.
I want people to step into this room in my house and feel the same way they do when they walk into a nice library or store. I want to find shelves that reach to the ceiling and line the walls with them, and fill them with books on every subject, organized into neat rows so you can always find what you want. I will fill the middle of the room with more shelves, and a few comfortable chairs and couches for sitting on, next to convenient end tables and reading lamps. It will be a quiet room, perfect for browsing, reading, and contemplation.
This is not something that I want to do as a writer. I will not be able to write in a room like this: the weight of all those other voices around me would be too overwhelming, and I could not squeeze out a single word for fear that I would not sound as profound as the authors whose works were around me. If anything, I might have some little closet next to this sacred room, with nothing but a desk, a computer, and a good dictionary & thesaurus set, close enough so that I could venture forth into the forest of words and look up some reference when I need it; but I would have to have a door I could shut to block all those words out. This is something for me as a reader. If I am lucky enough to add one of my own books to that collection someday, I’d be happy, although I might feel a little self-conscious about being among so many great works myself. When I walk into that room, I will think only about books and words and the smooth feel of paper underneath my hand as I turn the page.