I had this sudden instinct last week to just visit some books. Yes, that’s what I call book shopping. I feel that these beloved books, words written by an author who lavished his/her love on them, would languish if no one is around to talk to them. I think of all the thousands of books lying in so many bookshops around Bangalore, and I know I will never get around to talking to all of them, but still, won’t a few be reassured that someone came by? To pick them up ever so briefly and then keep them back? For that moment, their stories that they hold so carefully in their hearts may not be tempting us to make them our friends, but we part as strangers who will meet again when the stars flicker their pages our way.
I usually go to Bookworm, which is my favorite bookstore in Bangalore. But this time, I wanted to spend more time in Blossom. I chose to go to the new building, and not the old one that is the favorite of many a booklover in Bangalore. Here, on the third floor, is a wonderful array of books that are not haphazardly arranged as in the old Blossom, but echo some care. I don’t like treating books in some bizarre way, piling them sky high where no one can reach them, and then claiming that it is all part of book nostalgia. Books are words that an author dared to throw out into the Universe, spilling their guts so that we can be entertained and educated by their stories. They don’t deserve to be dust-ridden piles lying forgotten in the name of kitschy cuteness.
I went through the graphic novel section first, wondering if I would ever add to the one graphic book I have on my bookshelf. I read this book about a little dot with amusement and then wandered over to the table that featured classics, new bestsellers, and some random books. There were some more of the Peter Pauper classics that I have grown to love. Back in the 1960s, Peter Pauper published some beautifully illustrated books on poetry, fables, folk tales, and drama. The founder said that these books were priced at prices “that even a pauper would love.” I had read through some, including the recent ‘Flower Thoughts’, and had gifted some of these books to book-loving friends. Many of them are collectibles sure to delight the heart of a genuine bookworm.
In April last year, I had found ‘Folk Tales From Vietnam’ in Bookworm. I had picked it up and then gifted it to a friend who visited me in May. The idea was that we would read the book together. That never happened. That book made its way to the friend in Chennai, and then when I went to Bookworm to buy my own copy, that book was no longer there. Not one copy. I sighed at the loss.
Back in Blossom, I added a few books to my blue basket, and then came over to the Drama section, searching for a play on adultery by Harold Pinter titled ‘Betrayal.’ This section was one of the dustiest, with only literature students probably making their way to the Drama shelf. While I scoured through the hundreds of titles, many of them Shakespeare, I despaired at finding anything by Pinter. And then, my eyes caught a gleam of white. I crouched, bending down to find the ‘Folk Tales From Vietnam.’ I picked it up incredulously. It was the same Peter Pauper edition. What was it doing hidden in the Drama shelf? I went back to the main section where all the other Peter Pauper books were laid out on a table. This book was not there. There were no books titled ‘Folk Tales From Vietnam’ at all. For some reason I can’t fathom, this book was hidden there, waiting for me to find it. The only copy in a huge bookstore, hidden in the Drama section.
As I puzzled over this with my soul friend, I told her maybe I must have picked up this book during my previous visits to Blossom, and then left it there for some inexplicable reason. “Do you realize how absurd that sounds?” my friend asked. “Why would you even go to the Drama section, and why leave it behind there?” she asked sensibly.
“Some stories have to be written because no one would believe the absurdity of it all,” writes Shannon L Alder.
The Universe is an absurd game. But I believe that the absurdity of all has to end in kindness. Our life is like this book – what we believe we have lost is not lost. It’s always there. It’s always here, waiting for us to find it again. Is that loss love? Is that loss money? It may not return to you in the same shape, but I think every loss hides in it a kernel of gain. Every time you think kindness doesn’t pay, I think there are messengers of kindness who reveal just the opposite. This was one small example.
Here, I was grateful I got a chance to read this book that I had given up on. I was perplexed at the mystery of it, but maybe there are no answers to many questions. This book was meant to be read. It was a book that wanted to be hugged. I embraced it, and whispered ‘Thank You.’