“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Bookseller who grew Wings

Photo Courtesy Internet. (I forgot to copy the url address!)

The one good thing about having an obsession is that your mind is focussed; that helps in cutting through the cobwebs of  the stagnant, mundane life that one is forced to live, of the unwanted thoughts that crowd one's mind all the time. One forgets, at least temporarily, the pathetic present. Thus, my obsession with mountains, esp., Himalayas, has helped me; sitting within the confines of a room, barred by the grilled windows and shut doors, suffocated by the swirling hot air of the ceiling fan - I soar; in my mind, I see the grand vistas, the perilious cliffs, the grandeur of the snow mountains; after several journeys in the Himalayas, my mental visions seem like a virtual reality show.

These days, wherever I go, I search out bookshops that sell old, secondhand books. New books are prohibitively expensive to buy - but more than that, there is a great pleasure in digging through hundereds of crap, sniffing like a hound unleashed, eyes rapidly roving through the shelves or rows or sometimes just piles of books and then - Zaaappp!! you home in - I am a bloodhound when it comes to books.

Last week I was in Calicut ( Kozhikode) for a week-long training programme.  After sitting through the boring lectures and exercises till 1900 hrs, I jump into the first bus that takes me to the town and wanders aimlessly through the busy, crowded streets till 2200 hrs. I dare not go into my room before that because the guy with whom I share it is a TV jerk, all the time flicking through the numeous channels or watching idiotic programmes. In the mornings,  I go for long walks to the beach or the market area which are ideal hunting grounds for an observer of human life like me; then, there are the old book sellers.

There is one near the famous Hotel Paragon - he had shifted his shop to a small cubicle beneath the flyover. As I enter the shop, I start with my usual query - ' Do you have any- any books on Himalayas, photographs or travelogues or - just anything? This guy - I recognise him, because I had been to his previous shop a few times - offers a couple on Nepal. He said he had a few others but all sold out. The other books he shows, I already have. I tell him my objective; that I am looking for books on 19th/20th century travels in the Garhwal Himalayas ( This is a plea to you too, my reader - if you chance upon any, do let me know).  We strike up a conversation and I tell him about my passion. He listens to me shyly and says if he comes across any book, I'd be the first to know. He asks me about my travels to Himalayas. When I tell him that I had been to Kailas/Mansarovar, about my bike ride,  his eyes widen and I could see he is awed. He looks at me with almost devotion.

I buy a few books; the ones on Nepal, one on mountaineering, an old poetry collection - I pay for them and turn toleave. Then the bookseller says - ' Sir, you see, I too have been to Himalayas once.' 'When', I ask him. 'In 1985, I went with a group of people on a 3-month long pilgrimage all over India and visited Kedarnath, Badrinath.' He pauses. He looks around at his rows of books vaguely. In his slightly turned away face, in that faraway look in his eyes, I see him walking over the mountains once again, trudging along the bridle paths.

My heart goes out to him. I want to hold his hands. How so well I know this man! I ask him if he went again. He is silent for a while.  He shakes his head. 'I wish I could, Sir', he says. 'But what with the books and a family to maintain ...' He sighs and changes the subject. 'Have you written anything about your trips', he asks me. He politely listens, but I could see that he had left his shop and walked over to the flyover and standing on the railings beat his wings and flew up into the darkened skies.

******** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 07-02-2012


  1. Bals, that was beautiful summary. The man flapping his wings across the great Indian plains and into the majestic mountains far up north. Would be a striking end to a film that touches on dreams that stay dreams!

    When I read the part on the insipid room mate of yours, I could , ha , see your facial expression prowling helplessly in the room while that fellow oblivious to your fretting stayed put in , to the TV.

  2. Enjoyed reading Balachandran..Why don't you pen more here ? Not focused in that way ?

  3. Mr B - I envy you about the Himalaya's. It is still a dream. Honestly, wish I had the balls you have got, the Banker who kept flying and the Book Seller who started growing his wings talking to the Banker. Your travelogue in malayalam to the Himalayas, ((http://www.nalamidam.com/archives/7866 )) I havent ever quite read anything like that, made me think about phadreus :)

  4. Lol! at your roomie who is glued to TV. Imagine Balan, even if you were like him or he were like you; then there would be balance in this world :P

    Yeah I liked your metaphor in describing the dreams remaining dreams - wings flapping.

    Just a request Balan. Please start addressing reader's comments. Its exchange of intellectual debate that makes it more interesting

  5. The good thing about old booksellers is that they stay in touch. They call every once in a while to tell you that a book you had once asked for is now here or another one you hadn't asked for, but maybe it's of interest? I've been experiencing that here in Bangalore and it keeps the focus in place!

  6. @anil: I too like this piece as one of my favourites. There is a great sense of pathos, of sorrow, in the sketch of that bookseller.

    @Aswathibabu: Thanks, Aswathi, do visit often.

    @Melange: Glad you liked it. Being at Alleppey, the heavy work load, the too often bouts of depression... And I am going to re-work on my MPhil which had been gathering dust for few years. I had completed everything about 6 years ago and then thought what the hell, I don't need the degree. But the University called up and offered a chance to finish it. So the next few months I am going to be busy doing that. It is on livelihoods of indigenous communities. So, posts are likely to be fewer...

  7. @Ousu: Happy to learn that you liked the write-up in Nalamidam. Hope you read up to the last instalment. They have promised to send me a .pdf file of the entire article, which I will forward to you. Rasheed (Nalamidam) had edited a little; also many spelling mistakes have crept in. Though the readership of the portal is comparatively less, it did reach a few and they liked the travelogue. Phaedrus - yeah, once I nearly went crackers like him...

  8. @Insignia: B, you are a mind-reader! Believe it or not, I had decided to start replying to the comments from this post onward and there you are!

    I had my own reservations about commenting and responding to comments, because sometimes it leads to unpleasant exchanges which would make me writing altogether. But yes, one should at least acknowledge.

    And B, what I write about is no intellectual/debatable/argumentative subjects. As you know, most of it is personal reflections on life.

    But i take your point and will respond to comments. Thanks B!

    As in most of my earlier posts, this one too has deeper melancholy. I believe I am subtle about it as I describe the event as simple and as direct as I can. But every time I have finished writing one, read and re-read it, I myself am overwhelmed at times at the sorrowful human condition that is portrayed.

  9. @Insignia; ....Which would make me STOP writing altogether...

  10. Balan, personal reflections can be discussed on intellectual levels and also on lay levels.However high profile or lay may be the discussion. As Bindu mentioned. It can be better than no discussion at all, that is what makes life lively , argumentative discussion and expressions. While we can be opinionated it helps when we hear another's opinion as well. don't you think so?

    Yesterday I watched a Woody Allen film, "Midnight in Paris". A fascinating piece, I wish I could be the protagonist and be in reality transported to the Paris before the war. In the film this guy a script writer from the USA on a holiday in Paris,goes back in time to the Parisian life of the thirty's where he meets in a bar, Hemingway, Pablo, Scott Fitzgerald, Dali, Gertrude Stein and the giants of the era. Then he is transported further into the golden era of Paris when he meets Paul Gaugin , Edgar Degas and so on.

    It takes a Woody Allen to conceive this fantastic drama.

    The enjoyable discussion he has with Hemingway and Stein for instance as well as Dali is so wonderful. I wished I could really do so. One would barter all the life for such an event.

  11. @Anil: Yes, I saw the movie too; in fact that was the first movie I downloaded from Pirate Bay, as instructed by K! Enjoyed it thoroughly.

  12. Balan,

    I was toying with my thoughts; if I should let you know or not? I wanted to write you an email long ago to start responding to comments. Anyway, better late than never :) I did it here. Now you know its just not me!

    I understand why you got wary of responding to comments, but just to be taken as a sport Balan. Some of us are mature enough to let go as individual opinions, while some of us fight for something stupid!

  13. Like Anne Frank stated “We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.”
    No matter where I travel in the world, there seems to be a continuous trend on people’s lives: all people regardless of age, race, or social class are searching for joy. By understanding that happiness is everyone’s journey, I have made every destination a place to connect with people in this path of finding what it takes to live a happy and fulfilling life. Himalayas still remain a dream. At this old age , I entered into an education on diabetes leading to a PhD,that takes away all my time. I don't know whether it is worth all the efforts. Passions remain as passions.
    So well written Balan ! You are too sentimental often.


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