Serendipity and a second-hand book

Serendipity. I can sum up my day today with this one word.

It was a day that began very simply with my camera and I setting out to do a bit of exploration of my city. We first went to Sion, clicked some impressions and recorded some memories. And then to Matunga to have some hot filter kaapi. Happy and satisfied with the morning’s efforts and eager to see the results of my  photography, I turned homeward.

As I walked towards my bus stop, I came across this sight of booksellers setting up their stalls on the pavement at King’s Circle.

Pavement Bookstalls
Booksellers setting up their stalls on the pavement at King’s Circle in Mumbai

The late morning winter sunlight created beautiful patterns of light and shadows amongst the piles of National Geographic, Home & Garden, travel magazines, self-help books, classics, Mills & Boon, pirated copies of best sellers… It was delightful to see the books being dusted and lovingly laid out. Since, I had already packed my camera away, it was my cell phone camera that had the honour of capturing this sight.

As my eyes skimmed the book piles, the magazine stacks, and the neatly laid out rows of books, there came that little heart-stopping moment of the beautiful kind. The one where you see an unexpected treasure in the form of a book. One that lights up your eyes in anticipation, and quickens your breath just that little bit. And as you savour that moment, the world slows down just for you.

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A weekend with a purpose

This weekend was a weekend with a purpose. A single-minded purpose to do some much-needed pruning. No, not pruning of trees or bushes or shrubs, but of my book collection, which had grown, multiplied and reached unmanageable levels at home.

Yes, I am talking about space constraints which was threatening domestic peace. A week ago, my mother nearly had a fit when she found 3 of my books inside the pressure cooker she uses when we have more than 10 people over for a meal. When I told her that she had not used that cooker for more than 6 months and would probably not use them for another 6, she was not amused. When I persisted by saying that I was only making good use of available space like a true Mumbaikar, she mumbled something about encroachment and territorial rights. Mothers !

But I knew that she was right. A pressure cooker is nearly always meant for cooking (though I do remember the pressure cooker in question being used for storing water, when we faced severe water shortage a few years back) and is certainly not the place for keeping books. And my books were all over the place at home (in addition to being in book shelves meant for them)—they shared space with sheets and the pillow covers, my dupattas and shalwars, my CDs and my tanpura, and of course my mother’s pots and pans.

Image Source: MS Office Cliparts 

The easiest thing for me would have been to get additional shelves made, but I knew that this was not the solution. The solution lay in pruning my book collection—not an easy decision at all as I am attached to all my books and it would be difficult to decide which books to keep and which ones to discard/give away/sell.

After thinking about it for some time, I came up with a 5 point criteria that I hoped would help me separate the books I wanted to keep and the books I could to say goodbye to.

84 Charing Cross Road: A second-hand love affair

It was at a cousin’s wedding that an uncle gave me his copy of 84 Charing Cross Road with a crisp, “Read it. It’s good”. Now, I don’t know about you but long drawn-out weddings are not my cup of tea, and I always look for avenues to keep sane at such events. This book provided me with that perfect opportunity to escape from cope with the wedding festivities.

So, I read the book while getting my mehendi done, while helping my cousin’s trousseau to be packed, in the middle of the night under torchlight, when I couldn’t bear the collective grunts and snores of so many aunts in the hall we were sleeping in, between the many wedding ceremonies, etc. By reading a few pages at a time, I managed to finish the 100-odd pages of the book over 3 days and return it to my uncle. I was just in time to congratulate the newlyweds after the wedding ceremony, and then run out to try to obtain my very own copy of the book.

So what is 84 Charing Cross Road (by Helene Hanff) all about? I found the book’s blurb—an extract from its review in the Daily Telegraph—tantalising.

This book is the very simple story of the love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs Marks and Co, sellers of rare and second-hand books at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. It is unmitigated delight from cover to cover.

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