Friday, 13 January 2017

On a treasure hunt @ the Chennai Book Fair

Adventures of a Bibliophile
- Pheba K Paul, II MA English

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island. Best of all you can enjoy these treasures every day of your life – Walt Disney

I had been waiting to go on this treasure hunt for the last 6 months (The last Chennai book fair was 6 months ago). So, there I was at the 40th Chennai Book Fair, on a Sunday afternoon in January, all geared up for the hunt.

At the entrance to the fair, there were many ticket counters. I felt my hopes dash as I saw the serpentine queue at the counters. But before I could even sigh, I had reached the counter. The staffs at the counter were doing a great job. I moved on to the stalls to search for my treasures.

I was happy to see enthusiastic children pulling their parents from stall to stall. I had thought that children’s interest in books was slowly dying these days. At a stall with children’s books, many mothers were searching through the piles of books to get the best for their young ones. At another stall selling used books, I saw a little boy pleading with his mother pulling at her hand while placing his hand on a book, “Ma, please ma. Please buy this book. I will read it ma.” His pleading eyes took me back down memory lane where I saw another little girl pulling at her mother’s hand every time she saw a book stall on the road. Well, that little girl was now digging for treasure at the book stalls with her mother beside her smiling approvingly and helping in the search (That’s me! if you haven’t guessed it by now).

I had always found it a delightful experience going through this treasure hunting at book stalls even though I frequently use online shopping stores. But, this time I had to part with many new books at the stalls because of the high prices. Many books were priced nearly 100 rupees more than the online stores. So, I had to replace them keeping in mind my small budget. Still, there was relief in the stalls for used books like Om Shakti Book Stall. (Here you can pick any used book all priced at Rs.50). I also enjoyed treasure hunting at the Oxford University Press book stall which had a very good collection. I was happy to see two stalls with Malayalam books at the fair. But there too, I couldn’t take back much because of the high prices. The hunt for books was a pleasure. But still, as I came out of the venue, I was a bit disappointed in having to part with so many treasures.

Moving out of the gate of the school where the fair was held, I saw a couple of vendors selling used books at the roadside. I had seen them while going in but had not looked at their collection. After all,I had thought, “Why should I stop to look at them when there was such a grand fair with 700 stalls right ahead?” They had no name, no ads, no bill boards, no lighting, no partitions, no tables and no crowds. But now, I decided to give a try partly owing to my disappointment at the grand fair. There were hundreds of books scattered on a sheet under the canopy of trees which had survived the Vardah! It was a wonderful experience – getting down on my knees to search among the scattered pile for treasure. I was not disappointed and I picked two novels, both in very good condition. As I paid the man, he smiled and said, “Thanks, ma.” Somehow, I knew that it came from the bottom of his heart. I too smiled and thanked him. As I walked to the bus stop, I replayed the scenes inside the fair when I had paid the stall owners. Only a few had thanked me and even then, it was only a formality.All my earlier disappointment vanished at the gesture of this vendor and I was filled with tremendous joy at having found a great treasure. Every time, I hold the books that I bought from him, his smiling face appears. I am so glad I stopped to look at the roadside stall, for I had the rare chance of experiencing what I had once read in a poem by Thomas Gray(Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard):

“Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

1 comment:

  1. Made me really nostalgic. Well done Pheba Paul