Buying a book is one of the greatest pleasures in my life but I don’t think that it is going to remain so for long. The reason is simple. I like to leisurely browse through the books before I make a choice and for that I need to visit one of those new age bookstores.
The problem begins when I need a specific title. I walk up to one of those smart, young assistants who eye me suspiciously as I approach them. I hesitantly name my request and I am greeted first with an absolutely blank stare and then an expression that breathes fire on the fact that I dare to ask for something that calls for some legwork and the exercise of some grey cells. I hold my ground with persistence. They realize that I am serious and then a mad rush to the computer. Some rapid staccatos on the keyboard follow with much shaking of heads before I am sheepishly asked to spell either the book’s title or the author’s name. As this is now the norm rather than the exception, I have taken my custom to the online bookshops….and yet I find myself dragged into bookshops just to feel myself surrounded by the smell of new paper and the possibilities of the words that the pages hold.
I remember one pleasantly plump assistant at a prominent bookstore in Kolkata and she was a pleasure to deal with. She knew all about the books, authors, and basic storylines in both English and Bengali. In fact, she was the one who encouraged me to try reading Bengali literature and when I hesitantly told her that I was an extremely slow reader in Bengali she gave me Ashapurna Devi’s “Prothom Pratistruti” and had me hooked. The other thing that I remember about her ( For the life of me I can’t remember her name) was the passion that she brought with her, her face glowed every time she made a recommendation or when she sought out a title that the patron wanted. I interacted with her during four or five visits and then like all good things in life she disappeared and I was back to dealing with blank faces.
I too moonlighted as a bookseller’s assistant many years ago in a bid to escape the bullying bosses and two-faced colleagues at the “shitty-bank” that I worked for …but that’s a story I’ll save for another day.