Book stores have always held a special place in my heart, and the charm of tiny book stores run by independent small business owners is undeniable. When I was in middle school, my first library was this little place operated by an old man and was located next to the busy train station. As per the library rules, you were allowed to check out only one book at a time, and if you wanted to check out another one, then the cost was 50 paise. The library was far enough from my house that my visit was usually accompanied by an adult, and since my parents never put any restrictions on reading, I was allowed to check out 2-3 books at a time. As I grew older, the library became too small for me, and I closed out my membership in that library. That tiny one room library doesn’t exist anymore, except in the minds of young impressionable patrons like myself who cannot forget their first library.
On my last visit to India, I was visiting the town where I did my high school from, and I remembered there stood a small bookstore, around 18-20 years ago. On a whim I thought of checking out if this bookstore still existed…and imagine my happiness when I saw it still standing there; books spilling from the store and on the sidewalk. I entered the place with reverence in my heart that is reserved only for the temple of books. There was something for everyone in that store; from trashy romance novels to religious texts, from Bollywood magazines to biographies, from textbook on Economics to Chicken Soup for Soul, and from a book about Satyajit Ray to the latest thriller by Stephen King to the Archie comics. All arranged haphazardly on shelves which could barely hold them, irrespective of their categories and authors. As my eyes roamed through the shelves, alighting on titles I recognized and others that looked interesting, the chaos of the books on shelves, soothed something in me that I didn’t know was ruffled. These shelves trying to hold on to the books which tell a million stories unheard, show you the places unseen and the characters you didn’t know who were missing from your life till date. I brought about 5 books from that store, a Rishi Kapoor biography, a Devdutt Patnaik book, a Shashi Tharoor and two vintage Chacha Chaudhary comic books ; and paid way too much for those comics; but it was like paying to get a slice of childhood back.
A walk through the pristine aisles of Barnes and Noble or a Crossword bookstore while can provide me with a book when needed, doesn’t ignite a reverence in me like those shelves spilling on the sidewalk. Though rather than buying new books through a commercial bookstore, I would rather walk through the aisles of the public library, which even though is in no shape or size like my first library, it is at least a temple for the stories.