Sunday, August 22, 2010


I like the old book shop. I have always liked its unassuming façade. Situated a little off the road, obscured by more fashionable stores, inside one of the gullies, it sits like a dollop of history. The flurry and fracas of frenzied movements and activities around it, is like a sudden jolt back to the present. There’s nothing in the shop’s unpretentious demeanour to attract attention or customer. The old man who owns it, sits quietly in a corner of its half lit interior, fanning his naked, sweaty chest with a hand made fan, the ones which you get in the local market, very reasonably priced.

Its cool inside - the high ceilinged room is part of a sprawling mansion, now in shambles, out of poor or nil maintenance, the expense being unaffordable. The ceiling fan, almost in its dotage, once switched on, creaks in protest irritatingly, somehow reminding me of my old aunt who used to while most part of sleepless nights whimpering of arthritic joint pains. The red tiled floor had, once upon a time, seen better days. It still boasts of the fading sheen of a steadily eroding era. The once whitewashed walls smell of seepage and are cold to touch – as cold as the frozen carcasses bedded with clinical care in a morgue. But the most attractive artifact in the whole room are the glass and teak almirahs filled with old, musty, yellow paged, a few moth eaten, books standing erect or slightly inclined in their leather and gold jackets, mute witnesses to history.

I call the old man kaku (uncle). I am his fortunate neighbour – fortunate to have discovered this abode of peace, a known and beloved zone of ink and quill, wherein I can trespass on my own whim and fancy, without being accused of infringing on privacy. There’s a high backed chair, which must have once gleamed with polish and care, but now lies in utter disgrace, with a broken arm and split seams. I love to doze in that chair and listen to kaku’s infrequent litany in a mild soporific state. There’s an odd kind of tranquility in that one-roomed shop – a “Havisham”ish surreality of stilled time like a crystalline droplet captured in the crook of leafy palm.

Sometimes, I rummage through the rows and rows of books – antiquated editions of Shakespeare, Elliot, Dickens, Shelly, Tennyson and many more, haphazardly stacked, reeking of ancient fragrance and flavour of the immortal by-gone. A few, as I ruffle their pages, shrivel into crumbs. Its not that nobody needs or reads them anymore! But in an age driven by eye-catching, mind-grabbing, media backed marketing and packaging syndrome and above all the electronic intervention, this shop lacks heavily in charisma, innovation and hype. It is settled in its own cocoon, fully conscious of its pricelessness marred merely by an acute detest to cumulate its glory by commodification.

An old gentleman often comes to visit kaku from Russle Street. It is then that I enjoy the privilege of being privy to an animated discussion of modern, medieval and ancient literature. Kaku sounds like a heritage encyclopedia from where tumbles out letters, words, phrases, metaphors, idioms, verses and prose, which may have put the modern literati to shame of blissful ignorance, had they cared to be the audience of such invaluable discourse.

At other times, he sits quietly lost in thought. He had a son whom he lost sometime in the year 1962. His wife departed to eternity soon after. I often hear him saying that he is just biding his time. His silence speaks more than words. His sighs of listless surrender to fate wander in that shop like a pall of smoke hovering over an evening sky. Sometimes he is in a talkative mood and muses aloud mostly of those days when the charcoaled streets echoed the clatter of horses’ hooves, the air reverberated with the arrogant and contemptuous commands of the rulers - the successors of the East India Company and the meek servility of a nation for two centuries giving way to a unique clash between the all powerful and an indomitable spirit.

At other times, he speaks of those roads and alleys awashed crimson with the vengeance of the youth smothered ruthlessly by dictatorial clasps under the garb of fragile democracy. But mostly he keeps quiet as the seasons pass by. In summers, the shop is a haven of cool rapture. In autumn the pale sun peeks through the open door with a slight smile of cognizance of a passer-by. In the winter, there is a suffuse of warmth and coziness inside. In spring, the street outside is flanked by green sentries in velvet uniforms shining in new-found vigour and virility. But I like the rainy season the most, accompanied by a mad, rustic wind, invariably brooming the counter and parts of the red floor with a wet brush. I inhale deeply both in unison – the intoxicant of the rain-soaked mud mash effortlessly mingling with the musty, rusty fumes of the fossilized past.

One morning a group of giggly teenagers walks in looking for some text books. Kaku welcomes with his toothless smile but disappoints them with,”Maa! Aami toh shey shaub boi raakhi naa!” (Child! I don’t keep such books!). The monotony of the afternoons are broken by the grunts and grumbles of the trams lumbering by – recalcitrant dinosaurs parading the earth absentminded of the clock ticking by fast ahead of their times. The evenings are quieter and the nights are the quietest when all noises are subdued by the deep silence of slumber. Sometimes, one or two antique collectors walk in and haggle for a volume or two. Kaku somehow seems hesitant to part with his possessions, but does so reluctantly, invariably succumbing to the dictates of the buyer. The diktats of survival rule over the passions of a collector, this being the only source of modest subsistence.

One day a stranger walks in and has a prolonged conversation in whispered tones by the end of which kaku seems highly agitated and the stranger consistently perseverant! I, merged in the background, can only pick bits and pieces of the conversation He talks of a plot of land and hassle-fee transactions. Kaku shakes his head vehemently and pleads with folded hands for the stranger to leave. A stranger with a dark, broad, satanic face and shrewd conniving eyes behind thick lensed glasses! A stranger with coils of gold chains around his neck which look more like the handcuffs on the wrists of jailbirds than adornments! A stranger with an equally strange smile which doesn’t reach up to his eyes, a gold tooth winking in the sun as he parts his lips to speak and a formidable frown depressing his forehead, as he leaves the shop grim faced - a foreboding of something foul in the offing.

We are afloat on the waves of time. But time has its own priorities. One day kaku is no more. The question of inheritance crops up but no distinct, direct or indirect succession is traceable to be bothered to take over the ruins. The Authorities, in whose hands ultimately the shop is vested, repeatedly comb the domain inch by inch, in search of some evidence of an heir apparent. A crumpled note is found at last bookmarked in one of the dog-eared volumes of Milton's “Paradise Lost”. It reads:” I have lost my son to the soil, I leave behind his memories to the toil of the learned who have laboured in silence to earn the Eternal Truth - the ever-elusive mirage much sought after but lost inevitably to destiny!”

Thereafter, I lose track as I move from city to city following my father’s transferable job. Decades later, I appear at the same spot, now an unrecognizable and irrevocably altered piece of landscape, marauded ruthlessly by monstrous machines and men. Concrete rubbles lie here and there. A half complete monolith raises its metallic tentacles towards the sky in an imperious stance. Half starved, bare chest labourers work ceaselessly atop the construct. Their rib cages, poorly silhouetted by a diaphanous sheath of perspiring skin, undulate with the movement of their limbs. Pot bellied, men with receding hair line in super-fine, snow-white fabrics, shout orders to harassed engineers, striving hard to strike a balance between the enormity of task and pre-fixed deadlines.

I look around and try to recall the exact location of the old shop the leather bound tomes, the mournful lifelessness of lost grandeur and the old man torn in the transition of time. Somewhere under the debris lie buried the relics of the past silenced by the madness of the present and impatience of the future, hurriedly losing identity to hasty mediocrity and machismo of mechanics and money. The old man and his bookshop, is coffined somewhere deep underneath, to be reminisced over in nostalgic moments of quiet musings.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Well! Well! Well! How to tell the story of a confused soul! In this case, the confused soul under the arch light is none other than yours truly. Of course, not confused in thought or spirit! But absolutely muddled when it comes to directions! As I write this post, I find it difficult to coherently explain the problem. So let me put it very simply. You see, I get confused with directions. For example, it takes me a very long time to understand routes, roads, points of turning (and not turning as well), etc.; in short all those pointers, instruments of instructions connected to reaching a destination. Mind you that destination can be my own residence too! Yes, I blush as I confess that I often forget my way home. A few weeks back, on a Sunday evening I lost my way completely (in fact I was quite close to my house) and went on revolving in concentric circles till I realized the futility of the whole exercise and finally gave up. I hailed a rickshaw passing by and reached home safely aided by the rickshaw-wallahs route-sense. I will not be annoyed one bit if you come to this hasty conclusion that the illiterate rickshaw puller is more sensible when it comes to directions than me. Another instance, I was prettily perched in a rickshaw and conveniently forgot my way home. I ejaculated in panic “Arre! Mera ghar toh yaheen tha pataa nahin kahaan chala gaya!” Don’t ask me to describe the expression on the face of the hapless rickshaw puller.

I remember, as a child, my mother would often engage me to run errands or buy tid-bits from the shop in the corner of the gully. I was a shy child. Therefore, not only would I rehearse under my breath how to ask for the listed things of the shopkeeper but also how to reach the shop (though the shop was there at the same spot for donkey years). At that point of time, I was not conscious of the fact or rather problem and never thought about the whys and the hows of my predicament. Now on hindsight I do and as I do I get more and more confused.

Every situation has got its advantages and disadvantages. The only advantage of this situation is the free entertainment that I often provide to my family members – a chance to have a good laugh at my expense. It is a standing joke in the family that the person whom I provide the directions to a pre-decided spot or even my own house, will be very fortunate to reach there in one piece. My cousin who was meeting us after a period of almost 25 years asked me the direction to my flat. I gave a graphic one since I take it for granted that everyone is as dumb and unsure of roads and routes as I am. Till he arrived, my family was in grave doubt whether the poor soul was lost in the wilderness or not, whether he would be able to ultimately figure out the right block/area/building or not, so on and so forth.

A few months back, I had to purchase some medicines, urgently required, from a Chemist’s shop nearby. My sister and nephew accompanied me to the store. It was way past evening. Though the shop is situated in the market place yet it usually is quite dark around, the street light invariably not burning and the shop being shaded by an ancient peepal tree. I have a silver grey Wagon R which is quite a common colour in so far as Wagon Rs are concerned. My sister and nephew waited in the car as I walked out to purchase the medicines. When I returned I saw the car parked daintily under the tree. I opened the door and sat next to the driver’s seat confidently. As I turned towards the driving seat to relate something to my nephew, a stranger stared back at me with astonishment writ all over his face. I hastily mumbled a sorry and hopped out of the car almost blindly. Even till now I can’t fathom how on earth I got into the wrong vehicle though as per my memory my car was also parked at the same spot, under the tree, when I had left it. When I got back to my car I found my nephew and sister in splits as they had witnessed my blunder from afar and was just about to alight to pull me out of the wrong one when I realized the mistake on my own. My sister attributed the mishap to night blindness, I to a fuzzed mind. Often when I walk on road with my family members they hold my hand tight so that I do not slip into the wrong street or gully.

The flipside of the situation is that I am inevitably dependent upon others to take me wherever I want to go. I cannot drive because of various reasons, one of them being this. While I travel alone by autos etc., I am always fearful of the fact that I may be taken for a ride anytime if the driver gets an inkling of my fudged road sense. Consequently, I pretend smartness sticking to a particular well rehearsed route. But every armour has a chink. Once, while giving directions to an auto driver, I got mixed up with the right and left turns. He stopped the vehicle midway commenting sarcastically “Memsaab pehle aap apna daayan baayan to theek karlo”.

In the beginning, commuting to and fro office was also stressful as my office is 27 Kms (one way) away from my home. But now I have mugged up the route. Metro is quite a help but again the underground or basement is problematic zone for me where my wavering confidence (read sense of direction) constantly takes u-turns. But for the blinking signages on which I am completely dependent, otherwise I think my name will be permanently on the missing persons’ list. That brings me to another issue. On road my simple mantra of maneuvering my bulky self is learning by rote a few landmarks like hoarding, bill boards, posters etc. God forbid if these are removed one fine morning! I need not imagine further what will happen to me. One of my well wishers, in his characteristic jeering way, had once advised me to keep a packet of chalk dust in my pocket/purse so that I can mark my own trail to and fro any destination including office.

I can see the smirk on your faces as you all read this post. But this is one hundred and twenty five percent true and genuine problem. I am sure there must be a bombastic terminology too, hidden in one of the medical tomes, for this phobia, mania or whatever it is, stemming most probably from a manufacturing defect (?) , a chromosomal disorder, a DNA string going haywire – in brief a genetic “locha” to be precise, if I am not mistaken again.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


A half an hour stranded existence in a traffic jam. Reason an accident. A dead body lying in a pool of blood in the corner of the road. The police diverting the traffic in a nonchalant manner. Blood - the fluid comprises of red blood corpuscle, white blood corpuscles and blood platelets. The red pigment is due to the iron content in the red blood corpuscles. 8th or 9th class bio. But I did not know the colour red etched a little with black thickening around a corpse covered by a dirty cloth can vitiate a bright beautiful morning so!

Woh kaun tha, kahaan ka tha, kya hua thaa usse
Sunaa hai aaj koi shaqs mar gaya yaaron!