15
Feb
10

It’s got to do with smells!

“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” – Henry Ward Beecher

Books, plants, wildlife and journeys – though not necessarily in that order, have been wonderful contributions from both sides of my family

Way back as I can remember, I always seemed to have been excitingly swathed by books, magazines, forests and music. These were my refuge from the world. I even had a favourite tree where I had built a machaan and invariably that’s where I would be found, lying on its rickety but firm floor, reading a book or just ‘wandering’  from an elevation and stepping  into another world all together. It was marvellous!

I need to find a tree.

There is no doubt that I have always been closer to my maternal family, but this passion for books comes largely from my father and my uncle – my mother’s eldest brother. Both travelling in some other space now and I hope that they have blue skies, a book and a tree wherever they are.

What a mesmerizing childhood I had! When I look at the younger generation these days – I wonder if their parents even realize that they are attempting to give their children everything except the skill to read. And yes, I am so glad that there was no TV, no FM radio, no mobile, no video or cassette player when I was growing up. I was surrounded….and when I say surrounded, I mean ssssuuuurrrroooouuunnnndddeedddd with images that enthralled me. There was nothing more exciting than waiting for that next issue of the exceptional number of children’s magazines that were available – Bal Bharati, Rajabhayia, Chandamama, Young Classics and later Indrajal (I still have the first 50 issues)…yes, we were allowed to read comics!

As one grew older, we were introduced to the tilismi world of ‘Chandrakanta’, ‘Bhoothnath’, ‘Sagar Samrat’, ‘Lal Panja’, ‘Kala Chor’, ‘Safed Shaitan’ – espionage and science fantasy novels written first by Devkinandan Khatri and later by Durgaprasad Khatri. The Harry Potters of today are mere shadows of these masters. Add to this list the gripping tales and escapades of Biggles, Sherlock Holmes, Fatty, Famous Five, Secret Seven; Wilkie Collins, Marriot, Dumas, Tolkien……the inventory is endless! They were full of magic and fragrance!

I think it’s got to do with smells.

Once somebody came to my house and looked at the collection of books I had in a room and said, “Don’t worry if you can’t get a regular job, you can always sell these books and make a lot of money!”

It was one of the most idiotic comments made. Sell my books? Sell my books? Sell my books?

Why would I want to sell my books! Oh, I do agree that there are still some books with me that I haven’t read completely…but it’s like, love…I am slowly falling in love with these books and waiting for the right moment to know them better. I keep them next to my pillow; look at them every day; open them at random; brush my fingers over the print; caress the book; allow my yearning  to grow; inhale the essence, and yes I guess, then it is love and it is got to do with smells.

If you really care to think about it, love is a smell.

Which brings me (and I don’t know why), to a very curious but extremely important aspect, as-far-as books are concerned. One must have a good supplier – of books. Somebody who knows what you may like to read and be enticed with.

I’m sure everybody has a favourite bookshop where they go and browse. I am not talking about places like Crosswords, Landmark and other malls with bookshops that have soulless personnel selling tomes that seem castrated. I am talking about places like the Kitabh Ghar in Ajmer run by that remarkable man Allahrakha Sahib. Unfortunately, neither has survived the vagaries of time.

These were people who worked without the aid of computers, they knew the books, they knew the customers and there was a soul to their bookshops. And when you entered, you recognised and inhaled and acknowledged the fragrance, the scent, the smell of that soul.

One of the most horrifying thingajimmies for me is the concept of e-books. Now, I have nothing against e-books really but personally I don’t think that I would like to read any such ‘book’.  I am sure as time goes by e-books will turn out to be the (e)in-thing, as it were. But, tell me, can you touch the pages of the e-book? Most important, can you put flowers and leaves between the pages? And, you got to at some point, switch off and also re-charge the batteries of the machine. And, can you smell the e-book?

But I digress! Let me tell you about one of my favourite bookshops in India – the Baroda Book Corporation, and as the name indicates – it is in Baroda or for those with the fanatical-turn-of-mind, Vadodara. A small shop with its roof space packed with books, files, registers and more books. This loft is supported by beams so that nothing collapses on our heads. The shop is run and owned by Pravinbhai, the paan-chewing, soft-spoken man (who of course gives you credit and does not embarrass you by calling and reminding that bills are pending). He is able to procure any title that you want if it is available anywhere in the world. Pravinbhai has this habit of very quietly presenting me with a book that has not been ordered. He will sort of wave the book under my nose. He has never been wrong and I tell you – it’s got to do with smells!

Pravinbhai achingly reminds me of Marit who I hope still runs that brilliant bookshop in Oslo and Naqvi Sahib, that extraordinary former librarian at Mayo College. Neither, I hasten to add – chewed paan!

So, one day Pravinbhai skunked-up and brandished this hardback. It was a title unknown to me and I said, “Errr…I haven’t ordered this, have I?”

Not really looking at me and seemingly concentrating on the mastication of whatever he was chewing, wielded the book closer to my olfactory organs and said, “No, no, but thought you might be interested.”

The smell, the touch and the holding onto……..it was love, once again! And maybe, I’ll share this particular love with you one day but before I go, here is an e-look from a-page!


6 Responses to “It’s got to do with smells!”


  1. 1 Samira
    February 18, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I have also spent a childhood surrounded by books! One of my favourite bookstores is Blossoms Bookhouse in Bangalore. And yes, the smell envelopes me as soon as I enter.

    • 2 sacredfig
      February 21, 2010 at 3:49 pm

      Samira, anther nice place to check out is Select Book Store, which is in a gully off of Brigade road (its on the side which has the KFC and McDonalds) Its a tiny hole in the wall…but ‘smells’ awesome, and has a pretty good collection of history books (I didn’t pay attention to the rest yet)

      • 3 Samira
        February 24, 2010 at 7:54 am

        Yes – found a copy of a lesser known book on birds at Select a few years back. No other second hand bookstores had it.

  2. 4 Nidhi
    March 6, 2010 at 1:53 am

    Moochie
    After reading this the first thing I was reminded of was that LAUGHTER of yours! You know the one you have when you are holding that special book …that one that no one else has and we are all dying to take a look at it!
    Love your blog, as it makes up a bit for all those stories I would hear from you. I at least get to read something now!

  3. 5 Elizabeth
    March 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Arun, I know exactly what it is that you are talking about! Memories are entwined with smells-it is as if i can smell my grandmother, whom i was so fond of, right next to me even though she has been gone for over a decade now! It is so amazing how we associate experiences and people through our sense of smell!

    Strand bookstore is a treasure trove tucked away in Fort,Mumbai. And they know their books! It is such a joy going there and taking the kids there….the negative-its the only place (a bookstore) where my purse suddenly has no strings!!!

  4. 6 harsh dadhich
    June 27, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Please write in hindi.


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