Of books and bookstores – The Hindu

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Book lovers at a bookstore in Bengaluru.

Book lovers at a bookstore in Bengaluru.

One of the few things we carried with us while moving to our new house was a suitcase full of books, most of them from my parents’ college days. They were prized possessions, not to be left behind.

Their pages were frayed and yellowed, having passed through many hands and read and re-read several times. There were also ones they had bought and relished together.

Unlike our tharavadu (ancestral house), where the books had to be crammed into a small shelf in our room, our new home had many bookshelves built into the wall. My mother took it upon herself to arrange the books neatly into the shelves.

It was the beginning of the summer vacations, and moving from our ancestral home, where we were always surrounded by a bunch of people, made us a little lonely, especially my brother and I, who would spend the holidays playing with our cousins.

The books came to our rescue. We picked up the relatively smaller ones and started reading, and soon, we were going through the collection avidly, devouring each book.

My parents, with more free time on their hands, also joined us. Thus, the hot summer days and nights became mostly about reading, with the four of us sitting quietly around a table or lying in some corner of the room with a book in hand. Soon, many dog-eared books could be found scattered around the house.

It was the same routine the following summer vacation. This time, my mother brought a bunch of books from the library. There were also some new titles that she had added to our collection. Dividing the books amongst ourselves, going through them with great enthusiasm, and ruminating on the stories, we knew how we wanted to spend our vacations. The tradition continued till we left for college.

In college, I started building my own collection of books, mostly picked up from second-hand bookstores.

Choosing books to my liking for the first time was difficult yet satisfying. Buying at those stores demanded skill, for you had to keep a straight face and not show excitement even when you found a book that you had been searching for a long time, or the price would go up absurdly.

However, as days passed, reading became less habitual, and I could never cross the first few pages of the many books I bought.

Even then, it only took one good book to remind you of the joy of the old habit.

For me, it was the story of Ammu, Rahel, and Estha set in Aymanam, weaved by the brilliant author so sublimely, that evoked in me an old yet familiar feeling of wanting to go through every beautiful story ever told.

Moving to Bangalore, a city with charming bookstores, book clubs, and reading communities, had its positive role too. I would take a stroll through the narrow aisles of these bookstores, with shelves laden with a vast collection of titles, stopping occasionally to flip through a familiar name or something that caught your eye.

I would leave the shop with a book or two, with my mind going back to the summer holidays.

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