Our usual spot for adda is college street where after browsing books at the numerous second-hand bookstalls, chatting with P.T. Kaku, climbing the stairs to Chuckervertty-Chatterjee and browsing books for an hour, we walk down to Food Station to share a pasta and drink the wonderful coffee that the place serves. However, this afternoon, bogged down by the heat, dust, sun, and humidity, generally depressed at the state of affairs, and feeling extremely lazy, we decided to go down to City Centre and pour our distress-stories over coffee for a couple of hours, exchange books, and return home. SD suggested going to this deli, and since I could kill for a cheese-cake, and SD had found out that this place served rather decent blueberry cheesecake, I decided to give it a try. It was while deciding the menu, that we strayed for the first time. Since we were feeling very hot, we ordered a ginger ale, saving the coffee for later. We then brought out the treasures from our bag -- I was carrying the Herriot omnibus All Things Wise and Wonderful for her, while she had brought The Inimitable Jeeves and Leave it to Psmith for me.
The cheque arrived remarkably quickly, and we then decided to check out the two big bookstores on the floors above. The classics section of Starmark is not exceptionally remarkable, but its merits were not completely overlooked by two young girls on that warm afternoon. There were two shelves dedicated to Penguin's children's classics, and a further two to Collins. I spotted a couple of Julian Barnes elsewhere, although The Sense of an Ending was conspicuous with its absence. I held the shiny copy of Arthur and George for a long time, having read from a dilapidated copy myself, before placing it back on the shelf, and walking back to the Penguin section. And then, on an impulse, I rapidly began to pull out books. Hence, most of the children's literature that I had read (sometimes in abridged forms) in school, were finally bought last week, on an unplanned book-buying spree. I owe two of my Burnetts, Kenneth Grahame, Anthony Hope, Andersen, Spyri and Kingsley to that afternoon.
While we were walking around the shop, SD and I discovered a box full of Agatha Christie. We made elaborate plans of carrying it away when no one was looking, and brought a chair to sit in front of it to guard it. Unfortunately, the chair was too rickety to withstand our ample physique, and the people probably suspected something foul, and we found ourselves constantly under the vigil of the workers. Damn.
At the Bengali section, I spotted Professor Shonku's diaries, and remembered the wonderful summer vacations when I would spend whole days reading one exciting adventure after the other set in far-off lands. SD bought the first installment of Professor Shonku and was in splits after discovering that his cat was called 'Newton'.
While getting the bill made, I discovered an entire children's literature section, with whole walls covered with Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl; of stories and adventures about witches, and treasure-hunters, and chocolate factories, of scones, and muffins, and lovable dogs, of little mice, and vacations spent in farms and following secret trails. I promised myself that someday I'd own them all. Beside this spread was another big shelf full of Nesbit and What Katy Did and Anne of Green Gables, and my heart leapt with joy. It was only with the prospect of visiting another bookstore, that I tore myself away from this shelf.
We were tired by the time we came down to Crossword. I was looking for a Penguin or Collins edition of Nesbit's The Railway Children. I located a copy, and we sat down on cushioned stools in front of shelves full of Christie. I was looking greedily at the omnibuses, when a person asked if we wanted some refreshment. I jumped at the idea of coffee while browsing books, but being very thirsty, we ended up ordering iced tea and lime soda. There went our second chance to have coffee that day. While waiting for our orders, we had strayed to the Bengali section, and my heart leapt for the second time that afternoon when I spotted Teni-da nestling beside the Shirshendus. SD hadn't read Teni-da, and I narrated how, when I was in class four, my second language teacher complained that I could score much better in Bengali if only I read as many books in Bangla as I did in English. Baba had then bought several books for me, along which came Teni-da. I procrastinated for months, but I finally warmed up to the exploits of the four boys. I laughed with them, had adventures with them, flew kites beside the Ganga with them, and growing up in a sad little town in North Bengal, painted this romantic picture of Calcutta which I have always believed in. Many years later I would be disappointed with Basanta Cabin when I would visit it with a friend, although Dilkhusha with friends after classes in the university would be rather enjoyable. I read and reread Teni-da throughout my middle school, and tried to tell the stories to my disinterested school-mates. They didn't warm up. So many years later, SD, my friend from the university did. That evening, I took out the copy from the shelf, held it for some time, opened it, read the contents page after so many years, turned to the first novella Chaar Murti and read out the first paragraph to SD. She bought the book, and I paid my little tribute to nostalgia.
Picture 1: Johannes Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, 1657--1659
Picture 2: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's Young girl Reading, c 1868