Have you ever smelt the books you’ve read ? And if you have, then reading can never be perfunctorily dismissed as simply reading, it is always a romance.Book shops and old libraries can never lose their charm despite the ever-increasing onslaught of the ‘e-‘ brigade.
I flipped open a book with roughened yellow pages, which had probably been thumbed by hundreds of readers. The print was still good and I buried my nose in the book to smell that delightful smell of warmth and vacations…
The first day of summer vacations; the beginning of idyllic days ahead , hot and dry and with the wings of freedom to do what we chose. Let loose from the drudgery of school, my brother and I would make a beeline to ‘Apna Pustakalaya’, a rusty lending library in the small township of Bhilai. The proprietor, a rustic guy of around 40 with a bushy moustache would be perched atop his usual stool behind the front counter. The library was, by no means something to rave about and was no more than a roughly patched up tin shed. But to our eyes , it was nothing short of a heaven for our vacation starved hearts. Rows and rows of books lined neatly in shelves would be grouped under different sections. The books were mostly old, but well maintained in their bound jackets. The moment we entered, we would get lost in the mad frenzy of hunting for the Sydney Sheldons, Agatha Christies, Robert Ludlums and the like. And when we managed to unearth an unread one, we would hold on it to like a treasure. There were shelves lined with Cowboy stories, which mostly gathered dust , and the ones with Mills n Boons that would see girls surreptitiously snatching a book or two.
But the real cherries on the cake were the occasional Archie Digests, the Tintins and the Asterix we chanced upon. Knowing their prized status, the owner would normally keep them under the counter and would give them out only to favored and loyal customers. We would stand in line and murmur in our best endearing voices and would often be rewarded when he brought out an old Asterix from underneath the counter. We were allowed to take 10-12 books on one trip and could make as many trips as we wanted for a measly charge of 30 Rs a month
We would stagger under the weight of the books but our steps were buoyant on the way home.The bookstore was a witness to our growing up as we graduated from St Claires, Famous Fives and Secret Sevens to Perry Masons, Alistair McLeans and Alfred Hitchcock.
Its been several years since I left the town forever but I am sure that ‘Apna Pustakalaya’ still stands as it was and it continues to bring the joy of reading and of vacations to hundreds of children there.