Posted in culture, Romance

Shop Around The Corner

It is the wardrobe to Narnia, the brick wall before Diagon Alley, the gate to Avalon and the portal to the City of Glass all rolled it one. No prizes for guessing, it is none other than your closest bookshop!

IMG_20180211_185503_265In a world driven by space, time and cash crunches Ebooks are becoming the norm and print books a privilege. Any bibliophiles reading this will protest, “No! Nothing can replace the feel of hardbound book and the smell of its pages!” There are also other readers who will agree that yes, ebooks have made it easy to tote around hundreds of books everywhere and anywhere without worrying about heavy boxes and the cost of movers and packers.

But in this drama of print versus kilobytes, the ones who truly suffer are not the traditional book lovers waiting for a hit of the “old book smell”; but the traditional book seller. The “Shop Around the Corner” as Nora and Delia Ephron referred to the David of the world of book shops, struggling to survive amidst Goliaths like “Fox Books”.

This was the story at the turn of the century, but coming into the second decade of the twenty first online sellers and ebooks are the new enemy. With Landmark closing down and Crossword stocking more and more stationary and toys over quality books, you can imagine what David book shops must be doing when even Goliath has bowed down before the Automatons and Androids.

Don’t worry I am not going preach to you all the virtues of paperbacks over Kindles and Kobos, what I’m going to offer is a slice of my life and the role of this little place called “Book World”. This place of magic located on Fergusson College Road in a basement shop is loved by the hundreds of college students that mill around Pune City. My tryst with the same started back in 2012 when my friends and I were looking for a shop recommended to my roommate for cheap purses, bored of my companions struggling to decide what they would like to buy, I wandered down to the basement of the shopping arcade to be welcomed by a hidden book shop aptly called “Book World”.

Book World was the place where I could indulge my guilty pleasure of Mills and Boons that were sold second hand, it was also where I could build my collection of Nora Roberts books, other mystery/ fantasy authors and admire the various types of Tarot decks and their companion books.  Of course I was not a very frequent buyer but anytime I did,  it was a special treat that had me in a good mood for days. Whenever I was in the area I would end up browsing the store, touching the bookshelves wishing I could read all of them my osmosis. Imagine those actresses in old Hindi movies walking in a garden with their fingertips trailing across the blooming flowers, yep that’s the look I was going for but it probably came across more like Gollum hissing “My precious…!”

Such is the draw of the book store that when I reached a little early for my first date I decided to browse the book store and release the nervous energy rather than stand chewing my nails anxiously. On one of my random trips to the store last year I discovered that they had decided to shut shop and started the process of cleaning out the stock by selling them at discounted rates. Sad as the cause was, the middle class shopper in my could not resist the lure of a Sale and dragged my friend to Book World, armed with our New Adult salary account debit cards. After multiple trips where my friends walked away with lighter pockets and heavier bag-packs, I finally could make up my mind. What a book haul it was, being able to buy these books from my salary is one of the few things that makes it tolerable to have a job that is draining my creativity with every Excel cell that I populate.

I don’t know what is the story of the people behind this store,  I’ve never been the kind to strike up conversations with strangers you see. But I like to imagine what must be the stories behind all the books that reside there, especially the pre-owned ones.  Goosebumps by R.L. Stine which I imagine were read in torchlight hidden under the blanket the night before school. The First Edition Harry Potters for which some child waited with baited breathe in an early morning line perhaps? Romance novels which were secretly read by disillusioned housewives to spirit them away from the monotony of loveless domestic lives. The myriad classics, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy, Austen and the Brontes being discussed by literature students from the neighboring colleges over canteen Chai and maggi, passionate discussions over character development over which passionate romances developed.

With every visit to the store I see the stock diminishing bit by bit, bringing the inevitable closer, and as a person who abhors change it’s going to be a change that I will crib over till I’m old a grey. I’ll tell my grandchildren how there was this little cave that could take me to places beyond imagination and how till date I haven’t found a replacement. Of course, all I need to do is go to The Bookworm or Blossoms Bookstore in namma Bengaluru and I’ll have same experience of mountains of books, old and new surrounding me.

But Book World will hold a special place in my heart for the mere fact that it was there in my life when I was just a little lonely in my first year of college, and walking down to the store in the afternoons after class was the reprieve I needed after feeling lost in the social structure of law school. I don’t know about diamonds, but I guess books will always be this girls best friend…

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Posted in culture, family

Hybrid Variety Indian

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“So where are you really from?” is a question that I often get asked as a child from a Defence background. Thanks to being posted all over the country I never could claim one city as a “hometown”, the best I manage is that I finished the last years of my schooling in Bangalore, where my maternal Grandparents stay. But this post is not about the transient nature of a an army/air-force/navy kid’s life, my confusion about geographical and linguistic origins goes deeper than that, right down to my very ancestry.

When people aren’t satisfied with the above answer of a vaguely mumbled Bangalore, I usually take a deep breath and launch into an explanation of my origins, which sounds simple enough to me but even my closest friends took around a year to remember the whole dynamic. I happen to be one of the relatively rare people in India who are a product of not one but two generations of inter-State and inter-religion marriages and this is something which my peers often find very hard to fathom. One of my school friends, while studying Biology affectionately termed me as a “Hybrid”.

Let me give you a short run down of where my roots lie, starting with my father who is the easiest to place. He traces his family to an upper caste Uttar Pradesh family but he has managed to add some mystery by changing his garden variety Sharma Surname to the family middle name of Dutt which has evolved in our official documents toDutta, a name commonly identified as Bengali.

Next we move to my mother, another hybrid Indian like yours truly who comes from a love marriage between a Brahmin boy whose Telugu(from Andhra Pradesh) ancestors chose the area around Bangalore as their home thus making him more of Kannadiga; and a Christian girl from Allahabad whose ancestors fled the restrictions of Rajasthani upper class society and choosing joining the ranks of those converting to Christianity in Pre-Independence India. Do note, my mentions of caste are in no way self congratulatory in nature, I merely mention it because even within the same linguistic or religious group, culture and cuisine change as per caste.

Coming from this eclectic mix of languages and religions, I have had a somewhat liberal upbringing when it comes to the realm of culture and traditions. But this also means that I just cannot pinpoint one single cultural identity to claim. I am at the center of a Venn Diagram with a colourful variety of cultures where I can’t lay claim to just one particular circle. This also means that when I am around my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, I often find myself feeling like an outsider as I don’t speak the language or practice simple habits like taking shoes off outside the house or being able to eat all kinds of food comfortably with my bare hands.  Nor am I a church going practicing Christian like my Grandmother’s kin and let’s not get me started on some of the issues that I have with organized religion.

You would think that having lived for a considerable amount of time in North India among North Indians, that I would be completely comfortable with that side of my family. But this isn’t so, the divide between the Norther and Southern states is such that even people from my generation often can’t look beyond rude stereotypes and satirical portrayal of the people of the Southern States. Two year ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding who was marrying a Telugu girl thus bringing another stream of culture into the otherwise homogenously North Indian family. It was at this wedding where I repeatedly felt hurt and uncomfortable with the behavior of my relatives; I heard all your usual comments about making fun of the Language they couldn’t understand, observations that the Telugu traditions were making the wedding longer and more boring. I tried to diplomatically tell my cousins that traditions differ and that’s okay, I couldn’t do much about the older generation but at least my peers could maybe understand? Usually I would just roll my eyes at such juvenile behavior but the continuous onslaught of negative comments was getting to me in the Delhi summer heat. I wondered, do they not realise that this is not a snide inside joke, that they are insulting my heritage, or is it that they simply don’t care?

I ultimately got over their ignorance because really, they are a part of the larger problem of the divided society of India. A symptom of which you will see in places like elite law schools where the initial friend circles are based on place of Origin, the Bombay group, Delhi people, Lucknow people, Bangalore circle, Kerala, Chennai, Bengal and so on and so forth. I didn’t fit with any of these but luckily I could safely identify with the group of wards of defence personnel and therein I found my acceptance.

After whining at length about how I don’t identify with the individual components of my ancestry I conclude that I am not without a cultural identity, it might be a melting pot but it does exist. It manifests in the form of my need for sambar-rice at least once a week and in my preference of paysam over kheer. It is in my love for Hindustani classical music and poetry in Braj Bhasha and Awadhi. My grandmother regaled me with stories of the kings of Rajputana and maybe it’s her influence that till date attracts me to Rajasthani folk music. Comfort food for me is moong ki dal, bhindi ki sabji (okra) and rice, but when I returned from hostel for the first time my lunch request was beans sambar.

I am a product of the lives, experiences and blood of my ancestors; I carry a little bit of them with me every day in my DNA. I see them in the mirror when I see my Nani’s eyes and my Dadi’s nose on my face. But  DNA isn’t passed on as an exact copy all the time, there is recombination of genes that lead to new and often improved qualities in the progeny, similarly, family unit of three may not replicate traditions of our ancestors but with every meal, every festival we are creating our own. We put up the fairy lights during Diwali and the Christmas tree before Christmas, neither of them are brought down before my birthday in January. My birthday generally falls on the festival of Makar Sankranti, but we don’t fly kites or make jaggery laddoos, instead we have my favorite homemade Hyderabadi chicken biryani and chocolate mousse.

One day I will start a nuclear family of my own, with a man who understands or identifies with the multicoloured tapestry that my cultural identity is, and we will weave a few more strands into the same for our child to experience, embibe and start a weave of her/his own.