Author: Saadut
•8:37 PM


          You will find plenty of book reviews for all kind of written material. From cookery books, kiddy stuff to those heavy literary classics. But very rarely do we see Book shop reviews, probably we never want to read what these treasure stores would want to convey to us. Our hunting minds wander thru racks & rows, wanting to search out a new refreshing read or wanting to find that looked after print.

          My city is a small unit, till recently not plagued by endless malls and heaps of shoppers tippling on top of each other in those multi storied robotic expanses. Back in time the shopping areas of my city did not aim at copying modern tastes of architecture by implementing monstrous structures in cement and iron but lately my city too has been ravaged by winds of ‘westernized shopping block change’ in its own way. Traditionalism taken over by sick counters and tight passage-ed shopper spaces, showcases crying out vulgar distasteful, invert hanging stuff and heaps of fake modernity. My childhood the shops had a serene ambiance to them, price tags were not sticker-ed on top of each other and discounts like 40+50% seemed fraud.

          In my childhood of all the shops, my favorite used to be the book shop on Residency Road, an extended space with treasures inside. On the next floor of the book shop was the Indian Coffee Shop. Unlike the modern day coffee joints where couple sweet talk or corporate fake smiles and pretentious reign, this was a different world in a cosmic existence of its own. The coffee shop would be frequented by writers, journalists, professors & a whole lot of intellectuals for their slow sip -multi talk chatter. The furniture here was plain and simple but could be no match for the level of talk heard here. I still remember the simple poster on the wall of the coffee shop, which in many ways portrayed the openness offered. Such joints today would be called a waste of precious real estate, but then such ideas & the simple intellect as were nourished in those days have become a rarity now. The proximity of the coffee shop to the ‘book shop’ gave the book shop part of its clientele. The other clientele of the book shop being the foreigners who were more interested in those color glossy travel books and the picturesque Kashmir postcards. My interest in the book shop would be for the precious Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain’s stuff. How prized those dreamy books were for me like virtual trophies of a conquest, of precious possessions; of something I was proud of calling my own. Every visit to this store I would sneak into the ‘heavy books’ just to see what the grown ups were looking into. The Jane Austin, Dickens, GB Shaw, HG Wells, Munro, Jane Austin, Walter Scott: all shared their own spaces with each other. It was only some years later when I high school that I swam into these oceans. The book shop surely exhibited no light effects of the modern disciplined book store counterparts. The wooden racks and the stack of books on the sides were guided to by poor lights by today’s standards. You need to squeeze into a tight gaze to tide thru the treasures in these rows. The only books that could be easily found were the traveler & hobbyist ones since their cover cried for colored attention. But the book shop owner carried the index of all these treasures in his mind. If you seemed lost in the maze, he could direct you through your search with his eyes closed. Human mind did score upon modern machines here.

          My visits to the shop became once a year affair as soon I ventured westwards for studies. My vacation visits to Kashmir would be incomplete without a visit to the book shop, even though I would not purchase much from here, the book shop staying immune & unaltered by the change happening in book stores in the outside world. During the start of turmoil years as the coffee shop shut & the visitors to valley evaporated, the book shop wore dull attire. I could see the pain in the emptiness of the book shop, the cries of outside agony overran the vacant spaces. The books seemed to have taken my homelands grief on to themselves, for the rack huddle of Wells, Munro, Shaw and their counterparts seemed in its uneasy form in the book shop. On these rare visits whenever I touched the books on the racks they cried of relentless agony. The ‘Reginald of Saki’ had lost his satirical touch & ‘Clovis’ was less impressive now. Sometimes in my vagueness I would climb the stairs of the coffee shop, knowing that it was lost to time, but hoping that with a miracle I could reinvent it in its old form. Perhaps the Munro, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Lamb, Ruskin’s had not been able to shake off the Enid Blyton in me. Did I refuse to let go the ‘magic faraway tree’ into childhood fantasy & imagination?

          What probably the violent years down the road & across the square could not do, capitalism did. Many years back the book shop was taken over and transformed. The last of the Mohican's had fallen down.
          The other book shop that I now frequent resembles plain geometric shapes. Automated indexes, a computer operator directing by machine assistance and the cold air stares me in the face. I buy books in this book shop; I cannot buy imagination & peace of mind.
          I yearn for the old days in Kashmir, I yearn for peace. 




Srinagar
16th Feb 2011