Every new place I go to, I take out some time to look for a bookstore in that place and visit it. Every place has its own taste and so the bookstore of every city has a different kind of collection. So every place gives an access to a different kind of books.
Recently I was in Poona. While having chai at a restaurant I saw a small magazine shop next to the restaurant. After having chai I went to the shop and asked the shopkeeper about the nearest book store of the city. He guided me to AB Chowk saying, “There you will find one entire street of book stores.” I got excited imagining AB Chowk to be like College Street of Kolkata. I took an auto to AB Chowk to see that all the book stores are having only books for competitive exams and text books!
As I was trying my luck to find some good book store and book in between the innumerable “you too win” and “prepare for GATE” books a friend messaged me. This friend is from Pune but settled in Bangalore now. Immediately I called my friend and told about the strange experience of ending up between books for competitive exams while searching for books which would interest me. Narrating my experience I asked my friend which book stores were good for me to visit in Poona and she suggested a couple of them but one particular name somehow caught me. I immediately left to Deccan Gymkhana area of Poona. The shop was closed as it was Sunday.
Next evening I took an auto to the Deccan Gymkhana area. The doors were open. This shop has been operating since 1935 and has three huge photos of John Steinback, Iris Murdoch and George Orwell hung on its wall.
While browsing through the first rack I found a book by Rustom Barucha titled ‘In The Name of Secular’ and without second thought decided to purchase it and was holding it in my hand while moving to the next rack. This rack was like the old age home. It sheltered old books- some second hand. I was looking for something in particular, which is out of stock now and hence my eyes were particularly looking for some words and some letters in specific rather than looking at every book kept in the rack. When my eyes were moving through the titles of the books one book with a different but familiar script caught my eyes between several other cover pages wearing the sweater of dust and turning pale and weak over the years. It was Kannada script. I took out the thick book and read slowly and carefully. It was a huge collection of prose by the Kannada poet Da. Ra. Bendre. Curious to know the content of the book I opened the cover page to see Devnagari script- hand written- on the first page of the book with the title and author’s name printed in Kannada script. It puzzled me. Kannada book with some note in Devanagari script! Printed Kannada script in black ink and handwritten Devanagari script in blue ink. It read some three names- to whom the book was gifted, on the top. All Marathi names. Wondering who would gift Kannada books to Marathi family signing it in Devanagari script, i saw the name of the person who had gifted the book. My eyebrows went high. My eyes sparkled. It was Da. Ra. Bendre himself!
Moving my hand on the handwriting as though moving my hands on a peacock feather I thought Bendre must have gifted the book to someone who did not know to read Kannada and the children of the gifted person must have gotten rid of the ‘useless’ book in an unknown language by selling it to the bookstore, who now has kept it for second hand sale. But I couldn’t believe my luck. A signed copy of Da.Ra. Bendre!
I went to the counter placed the two books- one by Bharucha and one signed copy of Bendre’s book- on the counter table and told the man sitting in the counter, “I will buy these two for sure. Its difficult to hold them while going through the other racks so let me keep it here.” He nodded his head to say, “yes” silently. Placing the books there I went back to the old age house rack. I can remember any title having registered in my head even when I was coming to the end of the rack. I was overwhelmed by my luck to have caught hold of a signed copy of a book by Bendre in a non-Kannada place.
I was still high and almost at the end of the rack when an old man came and asked if I was the one who wanted to buy the “Kannada book.” I went near him and said, “Yes.” “He smiled and asked me if I was from Karnataka. As I said, “Yeah from Manipal in Karnataka,” he turned the cover page normally saying the book would cost hundred rupees. Saying so, very normally, he went on to tear the first page of the book!
He stopped and looked at me. “Don’t tear that page,” I said. He stared at me and said, “See this book is gifted by Bendre to somebody else and I cant give you the book with this page,” and took his position to tear the first page. I screamed once again and told him, “I will fall at your feet, please don’t tear that page.” He repeated his sentence. “This is gifted by Bendre to somebody else and not to you. How can I give you this page?” I got angry and my voice levels went high without me realizing it. “If that somebody understood the worth of it why would they sell it to you? And will you go give them this one page?” I asked. “See I know that someone and the book has come here by mistake. I can give you the book but not this page,” said the old man. “If that is the case then I don’t want to buy the book,” I said. “Then fine I am not giving you the book,” the old man said. “I don’t mind. But I don’t want this copy of the book without that page and I don’t know who is that person who has given the book for second hand sale but would want to have only the signed page, without the book,” came words out of my mouth, mixed with anger.
The old man closed the book and said. The book was not for sale.
Disappointed and angry I went to the next rack of books. Browsing through the other racks of the shop, picking up couple of books (Richard Schechner and Ranjini Obeyesekere ) from the next few racks, cursing my bad luck, I went to the counter. I placed the two books on the one which I had picked earlier and asked the man in the counter to make the bill for three. While making the bill he said, “Sorry that book is not for sale. It was here in the shop by mistake.” After a pause he said, “I don’t know how it came here. It was gifted by Bendre himself to my father. The last name in the top is mine,” he said proudly and added to it, “Bendre knew my father very well and he would come home whenever he came to Poona.” I was in no mood to speak so just was throwing a fake smile at this man hiding my shock by the fact that the book was gifted to them but still they kept it for sale and when they had a buyer they wanted to sell the book by tearing that one page!
The man sitting in the counter said, “I am sorry,” looking at my disappointment which I could not hide though managed to hide the anger. I said, “No no its fine.” Him apologizing made me realize that i had to apologize to the old man for having raised my voice while talking to him, which was disrespectful, and having lost my temper with him. I went to the old man, collecting my three books, and said, “I am sorry for I misbehaved while talking to you,” to which he said, “Ok,” indifferently.
I walked out of the shop and it was raining. I stood for a while and remembered a line of Bendre, which Phaniraj Sir quotes always- “Kandorigalla Kanadavarigashte…”
I think its partially my foolishness to. That book, I know, was a rare one. Out of print. Not available easily now. But for reasons I myself am not able to understand I was carried away by the signature of the author!!! I guess I should have bought the book. Probably if there was no signature I would have bought the book. But when the signature was there I did not want the book without it. What is important- signature or the content? I ask myself while asking myself how correct was it to tear the page of a book? How correct was it to sell a gifted book?