7.11.09

The Hooker 'Book'er

8000 square feet, they advertise. Is this real estate? Bookstores are indeed homes to tomes but I see them as tenants who can be kicked out any minute as the words written in them fight for breath choked within the confines of large spaces, and I don’t care if large spaces according to common belief cannot choke you. Too much oxygen kills.

I dislike the new bookstores where elbow space is of great importance and the aisles are broad enough for you not to meet other browsers. Staring you instead will be wrapping papers and gift bags with tassels, mugs with cheesy lines, greeting cards “for all occasions”, and CDs and VCDs. There is a little coffee shop hidden somewhere where you can leaf through with a cuppa and a pastry. Books are accidental tourists; even the ones at discounted rates look like backpackers ready to move out. They don’t seem to belong in the homes created for them.

Once I did visit a newly-opened store and what struck me first was the leather chairs. I picked up a book and sat there. It felt so much like an indulgence that I merely turned the pages, opening them out like a fan. It was travesty simply because it was uncivil. I wanted to be the one to mess it up. A man sitting across glared at me over his reading glasses. He looked intelligent, so I asked him an intelligent question: “Do you buy books here?” His face relaxed and he almost smiled. The ‘almost’ was to give himself time to mull over my query. We got talking about films since my arm could extend only as far as the cinema section shelf and that leather chair afforded me the luxury of not wanting to move. That is the problem.

You do not venture out for treasures to carry along, or tumble over sentences, or pore over the contents page, the back jacket. Nothing. If at all you have something in mind, you just go up to the counter and ask for it. I pick up a mug with a smiley face, a lovely gift bag, two cards for no occasion and watch as a literary figure I probably love lies there in wait. “Not now, darling,” I whisper and walk away.

I like bookstores to be slightly cramped, where books take up most of the space and there is just enough for me to demand some. Like a paramour I want to snuggle into an embrace with them as little insects crawl and leave love bites. I like to return with memories as much as books. New ones that I thumb through with care, the pages still virginal but as I turn them over there will be the craft of foretaste secretly embedded. Such delightful deceit! Old books that have been reprinted often and I never did get to look at them because I was lazy or unaware or not interested at the time are akin to discovering a fresh erogenous zone to make me tingle with anticipation as the expertly repeated words perform a magical seduction.

The streets offer a lot more of throbbing enticement. There was one close to Flora Fountain, Mumbai, where I’d stop and just watch as people pushed on their way back home from work. It was at the end of a line of stalls, although they can hardly be called stalls. On a sheet of cloth vendors just placed the books. They knew a lot. I have bought works on anthropology, religion, gender. They are old books, books someone has read. Often, there would be markings, which I do not like, but mostly a name on the first page or a date, and I’d imagine how a Mr R would have felt while going through it. Did he know his book was here, a book he had branded with his name, claiming it as his own? Or did he tire of its presence, and if so what made him do so – the intensity of the words or their hollowness? Had he moved on or had the words become an intrusion? Did Ms R feel the way I did reading ‘Women and Madness’? Was either of us connected to it because of the book?

I have smiled and frowned as I looked at what was on offer and the salesman would help, suggest. Once I picked up ‘Penthouse Letters’ and asked him if it was any good. He looked deeply embarrassed. I seriously believed it was an analysis of the genre. The pages were so parchment-like I was afraid to open it. He shrugged. I bought it and found that they were notes about sexual fantasies.

It was quite apt that the pages had yellowed with brown splotches. No one had put a name there. So, I put my initials on it claiming the orphan as mine. No fantasy must go unrealised, I said to myself, as I sent it along with a few other things it was time to discard.

I imagined it once again in some street corner waiting to be picked up and ripped some more.

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Image of the author poring over the pages...of a menu card!

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November 7 is celebrated as National Bookstore Day by Publisher's Weekly in the US.

7 comments:

  1. Have you been to bookstores in Bangalore? There are many like the ones you like.. and of course, there are many like the ones you hate too...

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  2. Farzana,
    you are not only falling in love with the books and are even jealous of how they are placed in society.You are mad at Sange marmar ,do not mind sharing love as long as it is dignified .I thought i saw you making love to the undescript erotic pages of some of these creations.If the subject was not books or the book week i would have thought that i was reading a young persons escapades like the kaka hathrus of old days.
    I am really impressed by your openness and honesty in the genre of blogging.Oh it is so hard to be honest,Even when one is not sure of the feelings.In your case it may be just an intellectual exercise.

    kul bhushan

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  3. Many memories flooded back about times when there was no money to buy books and scrounging for throwaway price ones! I could see you in those bookstores and loved the passage on old books read by someone else.

    Best wishes
    Akanksha

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  4. Atul:

    I'd be more interested in the menu cards of Bangalore if I ever plan to stop by!

    Kul Bhushan:

    This was quite wicked and lovely to read! I don't agree with everything you say, and thanks for introducing me to Kaka Hathrasi. This wasn't a satire, though. And this person writing here is not 'young':)

    When I write about my musings or personal feelings, it is no intellectual exercise; I am told even when I write about politics there isn't...I do not think any honesty can come through if one fakes it...

    Yes, there was a sensual element in the writing, which is how it flowed and I did not stop it.

    Akanksha:

    I can imagine that such memories must be common to a lot of us, and how wonderful it is to recollect and be able to connect.

    The part on old books has been with me for a while now and it won't leave me.

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  5. Ya... very educational it will be
    :)

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  6. Every time I pick up a book for the first time, I smell the pages. I honestly have no idea why I do that but I like it.

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  7. SM:

    You are just being nosey...or trying to sniff out danger!

    Atul:

    It is...seriously.

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