I will never know what a book store smells like because I have grown up in one.
When you’re constantly exposed to one pleasure everyday, it becomes stale. Moderation doesn’t seem to be an option when it is a job! A visitor’s entrance is preceded with silence – the pause is inevitable as the blank face changes into a wide smile – “That smell” they tell me.
I nod in approval – inside however, I’m laughing a sad laugh.
In the many years that I’ve sold books for a living, you come to realize that life in itself is a book. A novel, perhaps one on conscious living. Each day in a life is one page as you move through the hard yards. One thing is sure for true, stories don’t end.
The first job she ever gave me was at the Calcutta Book Fair at age of seven.
“Stand on the racks” she said. “Make sure no one steals books!”
For 14 straight days my eyes pried the stall; roaming like a hungry lion in the Maidan dust with the hot sun beating down during the 15 minute breaks every 2 hours.
On the last day I caught a guy stealing a copy of The adventures of Huck’ Finn.
She gave me fifty bucks; a princely sum in those days. I took it in tenners.I went home and ironed out the notes.That night; I chilled in the company of my new buddy Gandhi.
We’ve come a long way since then; my first fair in charge was when I was in the twelfth grade. She threatens to kick me out every month and I threaten to leave every subsequent month; here’s to the shrewd Sindhi businesswoman; Mother!
Some fifteen and a half years later, one rainy July evening – a young boy enters our store with his father.
“I’m in Class 8 ma’am, at a nearby school”
“I have a General Knowledge exam in class next week, would you have a book on the topic?”
Mother shows him around, and as it is habitual with her, explains to him “See this is how you study for a GK paper” – and so on.
He finally settles on a thin book called The Ultimate General Quiz Book. Fifty-five Rupees.
As he’s leaving, she calls out to him “Do well!”
The boy comes running back into the shop and touches her feet.
Last week I had an eleven year old girl come into our store all wide-eyed at the range of books we had
When she has settled on the book she wants to buy – she comes to my counter and gives me the book.
Before I could react, she also hands me a fistful of notes.
My mind goes back to all those afternoons as a child, when I would read stories of children going to the shops – and their conversations with shopkeepers.
Only this time, I’m the shopkeeper.
In our family, we have an elderly help – who has lived with us for many years. Perhaps thirty.
She brought me up , and I try my best from time to time to help her in anyway I could. I was very upset, when once she wanted to know what her bank documents all meant and I saw written in block capitals – “ILLITERATE” under her name.
A few months ago – we were short on staff and urgently needed to categorize titles according to supplier before we sent them out to book fairs. She volunteered to help.
She had to use a gun to punch labels at the back of each book as well as use a pencil to write the publisher’s name on the first page top right in block.
I wondered if I could explain to her how to write BB for Blueberry. When I started explaining, she nonchalantly reached out and wrote it without me showing it to her.
Not too bad for someone branded uneducated.
Thunder and lightening brings me back. The sky here in Poona looks cloudy. The leaves dance in the strong wind
With each drop of rain, the novel flips pages. Life is happening. The earth moves on its axis around the sun. Waves crash into the coast. Somewhere a dog barks. A child is awoken. The moon is high in the sky.
Time however, has stopped still.