Saturday, April 25, 2009

BASKET CASE


Flooded with diffused yellow light, the brown mock wood floor, glowed in spaces left empty between shuffling feets of the bookworms, and rows of books themselves. A silence of almost reverence clogged these narrow streets, with the merchandise tempting some of the passer bys with their tales and knowledge of centuries past, eras bygone and possibilities amass. An occasional head would emerge from this sea of knowledge, flipping through the fresh pages, with their hint of fragrance undefined and raw cut feel, to the bar code in the back and shake itself with regret or joy.


A few others wheeled their blue cushioned stools along the maze of books in a slow and deliberate flow, reading, sighing, smiling as they cruised along. The men dressed in blue shirts that have lost their crisp creases as the day has worn on, sometimes emerged from their hiding places between the shelves, to coax the uninspired buyer into carrying a red plastic basket around the bookshop. But often they huddled in there corners, quite helpless in fishing out an edition that had run out in the 80s, and tried to mind their own business. If it weren’t for another man in blue, distinguished only by a black name tag on his shirt pocket, rounding them up for incompetence, distributing the Catalogue of new titles and instructing them to learn them up by the evening, the men in blue could have spent their professional vocation with much ease and boredom.


But it is not the blue men and the multicoloured customers who inhabit the bookshop, that joy belongs to the books, for they lend the immaculate, sterile floor of concrete and steel, serenity, scent and soul.


The streets are marked with their own character, with literature boasting of a history of the past century, each out doing the other, with covers sprinkled with art of a new kind. Nevermind the words, the shelves scream out to you with imaginary appeal and millions of colours.


The Classics enjoy a quaint, yet vast corner, sporting books with bound necks and sweltry yellow pages. Doyle takes charge, and Conrad dispels, Nabakov tempts and Dickens mocks.


But ruling this proud display and a plethora of pulp, not just in terms of the books ancestry with wood, but with every honest intention, a dazzling display of adventure, experience and taste.


As for the growing beauty of Indian fiction, the books catch your eye as well as your imagination. With enthusiastic youngsters and a middle aged bespectacled woman, politely stepping around each other to flip through the many titles.


Right across magazines shine, with fashion magazines dazzling you with gloss and the Economist contemplating the movement of your hands. The adjacent shelf is oddly marked Feminism where The Second Sex sits comfortably.


A little further Graphic Novels take their rightful place, facing Anthology, the current and the past standing silent. While Cinema, enjoys a tucked away corner, Shahrukh, Scorcese, and Godard giving each other company, religion precedes the aisle, Vedas co-existing with the Quran.


Food and Drink and JAVA fit themselves somewhere in between, with a sprinkling of enthusiasts and experts turning the pages in their high quality print glory.


As they decide on their picks and pass the book display at the end of the stairs, a pyramid of sorts, a non-fiction title screams out to tell you another insignificant story about the triumph of the human will. And Adiga’s White Tiger towers over with its several copies and a medal of honour hidden.


The staircase leads you with a few bestsellers adorning the landing and you ignore Classical & Contemporary music, and film DVDs, which have amassed in your clogged silicon chip laden thingamajigs, to reach the billing counter. Nearly empty aisles marked by metal rods holding a red plastic strip across, lead you to pay for your precious finds or careless gifts. People swipe, people pay, people pack and people walk through sliding glass doors to the cool evening into excited anticipation for the city.