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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Literary Dimension


A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read. - Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett.

Nosing around in one of the many bookshops I frequent (as much as moolah permits) in an around Delhi, the quote really struck home. Of course , its not just shops, but anywhere books choose to gather. I remember slipping into the school library during a period when our mathematics teacher was not feeling so hot (teaching 57 unruly kids packed in a small room and as resistant to learning as possible without actually rioting and a paycheck so little that bank tellers laugh at you when they cash it is apparently not great for health. Who knew?). Our librarian, being a nice grandmotherly woman let me in the Backroom, where all the uncatalogued books were kept. Delicious new packing boxes were spread all over the place, and I was in heaven. Anyway, long story short, she discovered me four hours later, oblivious of the time, when she was locking up. I had missed the entire school day. While I realize that admitting to cutting classes to read books puts a dark streak on my cool as ice, almost James Bondish image, I will not deny that story. In fact I am proud of it. bookshops are as integral to my life as breathing or KFC. I spend an extraordinary amount of my free time in bookshops. And that is probably when I miss Kolkata the most. There, the bookshops had Coffee bars in them . Here the coffee bars have a corner for books. Ok no, thats a lie. There are decent enough bookshops here. But nothing like a miles of aisles that Landmark(nee Starmark) sported. Or even the smaller but no less interesting Oxford. Bookshops in Delhi are , to put it nicely, dull. The same square rectangular room. The same two or three bookshelves set up like gun racks in an armory.And then there are the assistants. Oh, how I love the assistants. It's not difficult to attract their attention. Just stop for more than five seconds before a bookshelf or even squint a bit and there they are. Step one in their holy mission to irritate and bother is to ask you if they can help you with anything. Of course the only way they can actually help anyone is by tying a reasonably heavy weight around their ankles and actively looking for the nearest large body of water. But since it would be pointless to explain that to them, plus you might get thrown out and still have an hour to kill. So the safest thing to do is mention the name of any writer who is not on this months bestseller list. First there is a frown. Then an imperceptible call for assistance from the corner of his mouth. Of course, the colleague who he was calling has already sauntered away to assist someone who made the fatal mistake of stopping to tie his shoelace. Step three would be to scoot forward to the check out desk where an acne ridden teenager who would rather have maggots feed off him than be here is listlessly playing Solitaire. Considering he was hired simply because he could distinguish between a mouse button and a shirt button and has enough motor skills to point and click, he isn't very helpful either. Ah, but he has his ace in the hole. He has the DATABASE! With the flourish of a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat, he types in the name, and with an equal flourish, he announces that there is no such author by that name. Not just that, he doubts if such an author ever existed or even such a name can ever exist and you sir, are pond scum of the worst kind. Ok he doesn't say ALL those things but his tone speaks volumes. This is your cue to lean forward across the desk, look at his monitor and gently inform them that it is not NEL GAYMAN, but NEIL GEIMAN you want. Still suspicious, and now convinced that you are nothing more than a troublemaker, he types in again. Ah-ha ! Just as he suspected, there is no such author by that name either. How dare you disturb his afternoon reverie, how dare you annoy the assistants, how dare you...at this point you can cut him off and tell him that you completely understand his irritation at NEEL GEMAN not finding a place in their inventory, that is still not who you are looking for. Of course, by now he is frothing at the mouth and search is already on for a reliable straight jacket, but somehow, he manages to type in the correct name. At this point he calms down a little, and with the cheerfulness of Hitler turning in a class report about the second world war , informs you that according to his database, such a writer does exist (although he is obviously still not convinced), they are not stocking any of his books now, very sorry, do you want to place an order and more importantly leave a deposit?? This would be your cue to hand him the two Neil Geiman books you found half an hour ago and ask for the bill.

1 comment:

Bedabrata said...

Good one!!! But I guess the assistants are recruited centrally throughout India.... if any one of them asks you if you ever saw their long lost first cousin once removed, tell him to go to the nearest cyber cafe and book a train ticket to Kolkata. From the station, he can go to the bookstore he finds first. Yes, his cousin works there. No, he hasn't come today. No, they don't know whether he is alive. But of course, they will be happy to recruit him as a replacement!!!