Its always such a delight to discover a new bookstore! My very first memory of a bookstore brims with the lovely smell of fresh new paper, the feel of plastic covers and the whirring of the table fan on Kamat kaka's counter. I was tagging along with mum on a summer afternoon when I was about six. She was looking for some obscure Marathi book while I ran excitedly amidst rows and rows of Tinkles, Champaks and Chandamamas stacked in doddery towers that threatened to fall over if I pushed them and mum kept warning me about running there. Kamat kaka was the one who kept telling her it was fine if I played there and 'Mangesh Bookstore' in Worli was the place I was introduced to Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Asterix & Obelix, Tintin, the famous Young Scientist and Childcraft books and much later, Harry Potter and Roald Dahl. Mum, of course, insisted I read Pu La's books which I did, surprised when I liked them as much as I did.
But by then, I could tell the onslaught of the Crosswords of the city had hit them hard as Kamat kaka and his son were forced to stock Hindi music cassettes, and the bookstore turned into a circulating library. Mum and I were there when kaka told us they were selling the store which was suffering losses anyway. I was in my last year of school and although, I felt really sorry for Kamat kaka, I cudnt really put my finger on what it was that I was left feeling exactly.
I was still not old enuff to understand nostalgia, and I was just young enuff to scoff at adult sentimentality. But I think I realised she had lost something intangible and important, when mum said the bookstore of her childhood was gone.
A coffeeshop now stands in its place, not a real coffee-shop really, you know, like Cafe Mysore is, but just another of those generic air-conditioned, glass-doored outlets of a chain thats mushroomed all over the city, where the coffee tastes the same if you drink it in Saki Naka or SoBo.
Of course, I also fell in love with the Sion Crossword and the sprawling Landmark, and Oxford with its lovely Cha Bar, and Mangesh Bookstore seemed nothing more than a quaint little anachronism to me when I thought about it.
But that was only until recently I discovered the joys of buying books in Strand, where there was another Kamath kaka (albeit with an 'H' at the end of his name, and a Karwari nasal twang that comes with it!)
The first time I entered Strand, I was struck by how tiny it was as compared to the acres of Landmark. "Where are all the sectionplates?" I exclaimed audibly as C. dada nudged me in my ribs and muttered something about me being a birdbrained idiot in my ear.
We bought a ton of books; he turned his nose firmly up at the Dan Browns in the corner while I carried on moving to the usual suspects. Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse.
I picked up "Aunts Aren't Gentlemen" and "Right Ho, Jeeves!" to add to the pile of esoteric books he'd made.
As kaka made up the bill for us, we realised we were three hundred short of the total bill. Dada shrugged and gave me a look that said I cudnt have my books. I sulked as he picked the two books off the top of the pile and put them to a side on the counter before saying, "We're not taking these."
Kaka looked at me, smiled, called to me and pressed the books in my hand. "You like Wodehouse, na? Take these and read. Pay next time."
I was hardly a kid, but he'd just treated me as kindly as if I was one.
I glanced up at dada who looked like he didnt know how to react to this. He shrugged again as Amit uncle put the books into two plastic bags and held them out to us.
As we exited, dada said, "That wud never happen in a Crossword, y'know? Arent you glad we came all the way here to buy books?"
I nodded thinking to myself. He was right. That wud never happen in a Crossword. They didnt have a concept of "pay next time". That requires trust and a shared love for books.
And a love for books can only be found in a real bookstore.
I found this today while I was deleting old stuff, in the My Documents folder in my pc in a MS Word file entitled simply "Strand"; the date stamp says it was written on 22nd May, 2005. I dont know why I wanted to put it up today but I did. I thought it wud be a good way to start a new blog. Also, its interesting to note that five years down the line, my writing style has scarcely changed.
Of course, Kamath kaka died a couple of years ago and his sister now sits in what was once his chair at the annual Strand sale. I dont know why I feel so oddly attached to Strand Bookstore though I only discovered it when I was 16. I wish I had been able to cherish Kamat kaka's Mangesh Bookstore as much as I cherish Strand today. Perhaps, now I am old enough to know nostalgia and no longer young enuff to scoff at adult sentimentality.