STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today's StoryCorps is a love letter to the written word. Alagappa Rammohan has amassed thousands of books. Rammohan immigrated from India to the United States in 1962. He came to StoryCorps in Chicago with his daughter.
PARU VENKAT: When I think of my earliest memories, I think of asking you homework assignments and 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. So where does that come from?
ALAGAPPA RAMMOHAN: When I was young - I'll give you an incident, how I am hooked into this book business. When I am 9 or 8, when my parents give me one rupee - which is, like, $1 - you know what I do with that? I don't buy candy or anything. I just go to a stall where they sell children books. And I like all of them. So I asked what this one rupee can buy. So once I get eight books then I would come home. You know what I'd do? Even today I do this. I don't start reading the first page. I smell it.
VENKAT: I know you do. I remember that.
RAMMOHAN: You've seen it many times.
VENKAT: I've seen you do that many, many times.
RAMMOHAN: The fresh book, printed from the press, untouched, unopened. (Sniffing). I smell it.
RAMMOHAN: That's my connection with the book. The book became my friend. Better than my friends. You know, human friends. I feel that the author is talking to me, in person. Now, if I go and ask him for wisdom, he's a big guy. He might not talk to me. But now he's coming to me. And he says, I'm here. I'm talking. Listen to me. The book could be written in any language. It can say anything. It's a transfer of knowledge from one person to the other. It doesn't force you to read, but it is there. That book, in my point of view, is very sacred. You have to read all books...
VENKAT: Keeping an open mind.
RAMMOHAN: Open mind. Next time, you'll think, wait a minute. There is another viewpoint there. If you want to give anybody something, the very best, give a book. It opened, for me, how to live.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: Alagappa Rammohan and his daughter, Paru Venkat. Plans are underway to build a library in his hometown, where his 10,000 books will go when he dies. Their conversation is archived at the Library of Congress.