‘Minutes? We don’t think so, do we Ginger?’ And as P disappeared once more into the gadget maze of Nehru Place, I called after him,’Call us when u are done. We’ll be around’.
Ginger, of course, was ecstatic and immediately set off.
It was a routine Delhi winter day and it certainly wasn’t hot. But Ginger had refused to stay in the car.
Proud momma that I am, I like to believe that she is too pretty to pass by in an unlocked car in the jam-packed parking lot in the Canine-Lover’s Capital in the country. The valet (if you can call one that in Nehru Place) had assured me that she will be well taken care of. He is a huge dog lover,he said, and is used to taking care of all sizes and shapes of canines and felines who are tricked into believing they were to guard their cars as their owners (read parents) went gadget hunting.
He came and hugged her as if to prove his point and Ginger licked the dust off his face.
Endearing, but no, thanks! I’d rather take her along.
Now, there is this bookstall, an untidy road-side affair that I had discovered during my many visits to NP with P earlier when he invariably disappeared for hours looking for another God-forsaken gadget.
How Ginger could have known this, I truly haven’t any inkling; but she bee-lined for it now as I struggled to keep pace with her.
There are numerous such stalls all over CP, Palika and any other street you can think of in Delhi. Why then does this little place hold my fancy ?
Many of us must have seen it. Just around the corner beyond the ICICI Bank, an old, bespectacled man with long silver hair ( and an equally long silvery beard, reminding you of M.F.Hussain!) sat with sacks full of books and hundred other strewn on the ground all around him.
There were, of course, a number of pirated prints but most of them were battered old copies for re-sale. It had taken me just two visits to realise that he was no ordinary street-side businessman. The man spoke impeccable English, looked like an eccentric painter (due respects to MFH!) and definitely sounded like a crazy writer.
Often, as I rummaged through his collection and picked up a book, he would offer an instant synopsis and dish out a generous literary analysis! Many books were rudely written off while other, very non-descript ones were highly recommended.
One such book was ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell. I had suspiciously bought it (very battered old copy, rejected by the previous reader) at his persistence and promptly stacked it away at the forgotten depths of my bookshelf.
Though I would love to go on about the book, I don’t think it is prudent to do it right now and bore the reader. Someone had once told me, ‘write shorter posts’.
Anyway, I am still not done with the book after having read it for as many times as P has watched ‘Batman Returns’!
And now, I invariably look out for other works by Gerald Durrell and proceed to label a store incomplete if it isn’t selling his works!Like Odyssey Leisure Store in Prasads Imax in Hyderabad!
By now, I had begun regarding my eccentric writer’s recommendations very seriously and added a number of hitherto unknown (to me) books to my collection.
One such other book is ‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan. The book beautifully takes you on a journey of exploring mother-daughter relationships and definitely leaves a mark on you.
Then again, it is not always about the books themselves with this little book store.
This place had old books that had once touched someone else’s lives. You can get a glimpse of another who had shared your joy or sorrow and had left a part of themselves in the books.
This old man, somehow, knew and respected the individuality of these books. He had read each book that he put up for sale and yet had left the little bits of ‘life’ in them undisturbed.
To me it is always intriguing!
A little things-to-buy list, a prescription, dried leaves, a little butterfly wing and the last book I bought had these inside it pages.
It was a girl, always the same girl everywhere.
‘She’s lovely’, I gushed, ‘Aap artist ho?’
‘No’, he said
'Toh aap kya writer ho?’, I persisted.
His ‘no’ sounded much more cryptic this time. Always so ready to talk, he suddenly had withdrawn into his shell and refused to look up.
‘I do some sketching too’, undeterred, I pushed through the crowd and sat down on the pavement beside him.
Without a word he took out two pieces of black charcoal and handed them to me,
’These are for you’, he said.
I was touched. I sat there for sometime watching him sketch and by the time I left, the romantic in me had concluded, ‘He really was an artist with some melancholy past’.
That was the last time I had met him and that was about 2 years ago.
This time, even after looking all over the place and asking around, I could find no trace of my writer-artist. I was really disappointed since I was hoping Ginger could meet him and was sure he would come up with many stimulating things to say about her.
What nagged me was that little voice that kept reminding me ‘He was old and smoked like a chimney. He may, very well, be dead.’
P, by now, was back and absolutely refused to be taken in by this melodramatic (his words) idea of an eccentric lonely old artist who may have smoked himself to death on the streets of Delhi!
‘He must have been shooed away in a police clearance and is merrily selling his wares elsewhere,’ he suggested firmly.
And as the three of us walked away, I prayed that is the truth.
I hope I find him once again someday and when (if??) I do, I MUST remember to ask him his name.