An apologia for book stall, this makeshift dent remains pitched in the middle of a busy pavement. People take kindly to its existence though it’s a hurdle to their movement. As if a hot cake, they swarm it all times. I often see booklovers visit this jaunt in their troves. Huge collection of books that the stall gets stuffed with astound them. Ice cream and coffee kiosks crop up on the sides of the shop thanks to the swelling crowds.
Admirably, visits by a stream of writers make the shop a distinguished one and give it a halo of pride. Abdication their crowns of egos, I find writers stand at ease with the commoners and browse those books that rekindle their writing spirits. A few high profile authors find this decrepit joint a spa where they try to rejuvenate their worn out creative minds.
For me this stall is not a business concern, but a holy confluence. A confluence where I take dips with writers, both celebs and novices. But then, my trip to the dent is not to go and stand under the shadows of the authors. I would rather like to be there to hug books and get a feel of them at first sight. It is those books who are ready to flirt with me even at odd hours teach me what is love at first sight.
Books that stay cluttered on the floor are always upturned. While most of them have their gaudy or purple wraps intact, the less fortunate ones are bare, exposing their frayed bodies. I would squat on the floor, take a book from the pile and flip through its pages as fast as I could. For, I like the strange aroma wafting from the books, thinking it’s about those who had read them long back.
Thus, when I leaf through the dog-eared and termite eaten pages of the Bard’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, I notice an inscription in the second cover page alongside the caption ‘THE PROLOGUE’. It reads:
‘Savita, I love you’.
The letters are bold and male smelling. But, what is perceptibly missing is the name of the writer or his signature.
‘Uh, who is this Savita?’ I mumble as my thoughts get triggered.
‘Is she pretty? Why the man who divulged his love for her didn’t like to show his identity? Possibly, his love might be an unrequited one. Or Savita should have jilted him and fallen for another man. Married or single, she must be aged now. Bedridden with a host of ailments, she may, probably, be counting the days down to her demise. Else she might have died by now. On either way, she would never know that a guy had loved her and etched her name in the pages of one of the Bard’s epic romances.’
My thoughts ground only when the squiggles or scribbles from another book daze me. I get well impressed as I see all those inscriptions on the books are not vanity statements, but expressions of profound feelings.
‘Gone with the wind’ is another classic I grab from the clutter. This Margaret Mitchell’s epic-historic romance caused many ripples in me once. Memories of Scarlet O’Hara’s battle against life’s odds still linger in my mind and make me dismayed. But the termites hold no mercy for her as they have eaten half of her story. The book is in disarray. Since its cloth binding gets loosened, the pages become rootless like the hapless Scarlet.
Since the book is so untidy and unkempt, I turn its pages with much care. A brief note from the right hand corner of the first chapter catches my sight. It smells of a female hand as it’s written in ornate letters.
“I, too, am a Scarlet O’Hara,” the note declares. “I have braved many storms. Bore all your whiplashes with a smile. You bastard, you sink me in a scalding lead or pour acid on my face, but I won’t budge. Won’t allow that slut home. Nor will I leave you alone.” Kala is the name I find scribbled under the note.
‘Kala must be a housewife.’ I begin thinking. My inquisitive mind gets booted. The woman must be a troubled soul, but daring. She could have written this note just to bully her tormenting husband who, I presume, might be hobnobbing with another woman and trying to throw Kala out of home. Though I can’t gauze the exact reason behind the scrawling, I get an itching to meet Kala and do what she needs.
At this time of agony
When we live amidst felony
Your presence we need again
To get rescue from
Make your homeland a gutter?
And our lives woefully bitter.”
I don’t know it’s poetry or a purple prose. But I see it written on a scrap of paper, folded and kept inside the Mahatma’s magnum opus ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’. Unlike the other books that are in shambles, this treatise on truth looks fairly good. That the book is not passed on hands can be seen from its blue wrap which remains intact and unstripped.
True, the poet [?] underscored the nation’s agony. He too appealed to Gandhi come home to heal the ailing nation. But he didn’t record his thoughts in any of the pages of the book. He rather wrote his thoughts on a piece of paper and kept it in between the pages. Amazingly, the paper remains there unopened for long since no one has interest either to read the Gandhi book or to know about the truth he unveils. Though the writer doesn’t show his identity, he must be a hardcore, frigging nationalist who likes his country to be secular forever.
My horizon of imagery thus gets widened. It flies higher and higher whenever I thumb through the pages of the books and read the notes or the engravings appear on them. I get moved more by the inscriptions than by the books. For, they connect me with unknown men/women who had read the books beforehand. Aside from personal notes, which emerge on pages of books and express all the navarasas, I also run into a few trolls next to a row of phone numbers.
The relationship between a reader and a book is always secret and invisible. I love books as they are my companions, associates, fellow travelers and bosom friends. My love for them can never be deciphered or decoded. Whenever I visit this dingy book stall, I used to glance at those books stuffed in big gunny bags. They are confined as they have no space in the cramped shop to display themselves. The fact they are homeless like those of abandoned poor make my heart flutter.
Inputs source: ‘The Hindu’ Tamil daily
Image credit: Google