Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tales of Dusty Books Unsold – Part I

A large part of my waking life has been spent in libraries. Yes, those boring institutions associated with curmudgeonly men and women, eccentrics and bookworms. Smelling of books, dust and filtered daylight, libraries have been very important to my life. My first memory of a library is of a steel Godrej almirah stored at the corner of a large cement godown that had been converted into the colony club. I am sure there was a time before this when it was an almirah at the corner of a dingy apartment, but I don’t remember. Uncles and aunties of various antecedents donated books, mainly pulp fiction and cold war novels. My first memories are of borrowing Richmal Crompton’s William stories about a schoolboy and his friends, who called themselves the Outlaws. And then there were the Enid Blytons, the Nancy Drews and the Hardy Boys. I rapidly moved onto Arthur Hailey, Sidney Sheldon and Robin Cook. There were also the random James Hadley Chase-s (am not sure that counts as moving on as much as maybe just moving, like drunken derelicts…) but the covers of the latter didn’t pass maternal muster so I rapidly digressed. Lest you think these were porn disguised as thrillers, more like the other way round. The covers were hardly there and the insides all square [I rhymed, I rhymed!]

Exhibit A

Incidentally, for those interested in my find of the year, the opening frames of “Johnny Gaddar” have a dedication to James Hadley Chase. And speaking of pulp fiction, Chase's real name is Rene Brabazon Raymond.

One year, my father, in his aspirations to dictatorship took over the helms of the library and club. I have fond memories of sitting by him while he painstakingly bound and covered books with titles like “Airport”, “Tiger by the Tail”, and “The Dead stay Dumb” [as a Hindi film, would that read “Murda Goonge Rehte Hain”?]. It was also from him that I learnt to judge people by the way they kept their covers.

The school I went to had a nice little library on the first floor where I spent many hours reading encyclopedias. Yes, not very exciting, but in the process, I also got roped into writing the school’s yearbook. In the 1980's of no computers and a typewriter guarded fiercely by the accountant, ten year olds ended up being slave labour/ scribes. Somewhere in the annals of the Jagdish Chandra Mahindra Memorial School is a record of my handwriting as it used to be.

For my pleasure reading, there was the Garden Book Centre at Chembur opposite Diamond Gardens. Run by a wonderfully straight-faced lady whose name I wish I could remember, it saved my parents many years’ worth of savings in Enid Blyton and comic books. For the princely deposit of Rs.250 and Rs.2/5 per comic/ book, I had my fill of scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam and wafer thin cucumber sandwiches (ugh) and traipsed around in macintoshes and galoshes [read obscenely cream-filled puffs from the neighborhood bakery and many hued colors of raincoats and ugly oily gumboots]. I also dated freckle-faced boys and scowled at snooty heiresses [Is he really getting married to her? Really? Really?]

More libraries ensued, but that will be a tale for another sunny morning.

[To be continued…]