I had never imagined I could be so moved by just four words, written with a ballpoint pen, on the blank space of a book’s first page. The inscription was simple: “For Abba, Love Biddo.” Above them, is the book’s name in print: “Eurocentrism”.

I used to be very fond of the books of Samir Amin. An Egyptian Christian, he had been forced out of Egypt by the socialist Nasser, for his socialist writings. (Some day, I should write about the socialism of Nehru, Nasser, Nkrumah, etc.)

But, since he was a Marxist and not a “socialist”, he was sensible enough not to settle in Moscow, going instead to Paris. Last I heard of him, long ago, he was working in Dakar for some UN agency.

Many Marxist writers of the time used to call Samir Amin “marxisant”, or neo-Marxist, which is to say he was not quite “authentique”. I am still fond of him, though now I have less access to the latest books appearing in the West.

But just now about the inscription mentioned above. Who is the son or daughter who gave or sent the book to “Abba”. Both the sender and the recipient were certainly educated.

Was one of them a socialist? On what occasion was the book sent? Who discarded it? Who then sold it to an old-book dealer? Still the warmth of the inscription is devastating. So simple. So powerful. Like a handful of jasmine buds.

I visit old-book shops often. Once, in Islamabad, I found about half-a-dozen of my books in a row on a shelf in such a shop. I did not protest to the bookseller. I just bought the books, quite cheap, and dismissed the young man working in our house.

But, on other occasions, an experience can be satisfying. A good friend had the pelican paperback edition of Marx’s “Capital”. But I noticed that the first volume was missing. And this I found in the Frere Hall’s Sunday bazar, a few months later, and so it was restored to where it belonged.

But the most interesting episode on the subject belongs to a much earlier period. A good friend and I were walking down the then Victoria Road (now Abdullah Haroon Road) where there used to be a bookshop in a kiosk on an empty plot only a few meters from Cafe George.

I still recall two big volumes exhibited in it with the titles “History of Slavery” and “History of Prostitution”. I had always hoped to buy them, as soon as I had the requisite sum, which I never did. They were still there when I left Karachi in 1959. The kiosk, I suppose, was a temporary venture, as there is a huge building on the plot now.

Anyway, my friend bought an Urdu translation of some theoretical work of Mao Tse-tung, titled “Mao Kay Khayalat”, from the kiosk, for eight annas (half-a-rupee).

Four or five days later, I saw a book with the same title being sold for four annas on the pavement in front of Cafe George, only a few meters from the place it had originally been bought.

On picking it up, I found it was the same copy. My friend’s name and date of purchase were on it. Apparently, a neighbour of his had borrowed the book from him the day he had brought it, and sold it for two annas. It far now being sold for four annas.

Did some similar fate befall Samir Amin’s book, which was on offer in Frere Hall bazar?

 The writer is a retired ambassador.