Sunday, 18 August 2013

A visit to a book fair on Independence Day

On holidays, the best place to visit in Mumbai is the once bustling central business district in south Mumbai. The offices are closed, there’re fewer cars on the road, still fewer pedestrians on the footpaths, and plenty of room on the wide and sweeping promenade fronting the Arabian Sea at Marine Drive, popularly known as Queen’s Necklace because of its shape. It stretches from land’s end at Nariman Point, once the hub of banking and commercial activity, to Chowpatty, a flat beach located about 3 km (4.8 miles) away. This is VIP territory as the offices and homes of government ministers and secretaries, police and municipal commissioners, influential businessmen and industrialists, and assorted celebrities are located in the area. As a result it is the cleanest and most well-maintained part of the city.

The Queen’s Necklace at Marine Drive.

In the suburb where I live, 22 km (35 miles) north of the city, the only places a family can visit on holidays are swanky malls, supermarkets, multiplexes, food courts, and restaurants, and all these are crowded and noisy. But there is only so much you can do in these places: buy stuff you don’t really need, watch a film you know you'll soon catch on cable, frantically look for a seat in a food court, await your turn outside a restaurant, or loiter about the mall and get in someone's way. People do this for fun every weekend.

Visiting relatives is a grim option. I don’t fancy it on a holiday and, I’m sure, neither do they. In Mumbai, you treasure your holidays and your privacy and the last thing you want is to be with people.

On Thursday, August 15, India’s 66th Independence Day, the family took the ‘local’ train to south Mumbai. Train because it is the fastest, quietest, and surest way to get to anywhere in the city. It took us half an hour by a fast train to reach Churchgate, the last station on the western line and a stone’s throw from the picturesque Queen’s Necklace. It would have taken close to an hour by road, much longer on a working day.

You’ll find the places we visited at the bottom of the map. 
© www.mumbainet.com

We first went to a popular book fair at the nearby Sunderbhai Hall at New Marine Lines, not far from my office. Ashish Book Centre, organisers of the book exhibition, had on sale over a million books in nearly all genres. Most of these books were selling at 50 to 85 per cent discount. People thronged the fiction, cookery, management, children and young adult, interior and architecture, and reference sections the most.

The only problem was finding a title you had in mind. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. While books were lined up or stacked in categories, the spines facing towards you, there was no method or pattern to it. They were all mixed up. I'm not sure the organisers know their books well.

The fiction category was impressive but in a disarray. I ran my fingers through row after row of books and saw many familiar names, some I’d read, some I hadn't, like Patricia Cornwell, Stuart Woods, Anne Perry, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, David Baldacci, Deborah Crombie, Danielle Steel, Stieg Larsson, Jeffrey Deaver and hundreds of others, both old and new authors.

Most novels were selling for Rs.50 or Rs.100 ($1 = Rs.62) and they were all in brand new condition. I picked up five books, put away four, and bought one—Me Tanner, You Jane, an Evan Tanner paperback by Lawrence Block, for Rs.50. I don’t come across his novels often. The others can wait another holiday, another book fair.

From Sunderbhai Hall, we took a taxi to Colaba Causeway, the famous shopping boulevard, where we ate at a small continental restaurant called Café Churchill. The wartime British prime minister glared at us from one of the walls. We had a meal of fish and chicken fingers with chips, burgers with chips, country style chicken and mixed grill, with grilled sauce and garnished with boiled egg, lemon and peach iced tea, and chocolate cake. On the way back to Churchgate station, we stopped at an old ice cream parlour called K. Rustom’s which serves slabs of ice cream tucked between thin biscuit slices. I spoiled it all by ordering a lime and lemon ice cream for myself. It tasted like orange peel.

Here I must mention that the places we went to were less than a kilometre from the places that were attacked by seaborne terrorists in November 2008. These were CST (Victoria Terminus), a major railway station, two 5-star hotels, a café frequented mostly by foreigners (a few buildings from Café Churchill), and a Jewish outreach centre.

Before I wind up our I-Day celebration, I’ll tell you what the Lawrence Block novel is about. I haven’t read it yet but here’s what it says on the back cover…

“It’s a jungle out there. Literally. At least for Evan Tanner, eternally sleepless sometime superspy, who finds himself in Africa on the trail of the AWOL ruler of tiny Modonoland. It seems the petty despot’s gone missing, and he’s taken the state treasury along with him. No stranger to impossible missions and international peril, Tanner’s been in over his head before. This time, however, he’s in imminent danger of being buried alive.”

I loved the first line of the book. In typical fashion, Lawrence Block writes, “I have never liked funerals. I can appreciate the advantages of conventionalizing one’s relationship with Death, but this appreciation has never advanced beyond the level of pure theory.”

I think I’m going to get to the book faster than I’d planned.

23 comments:

  1. Nice report--thanks for sharing. Made me feel like I got to travel too :-)

    That first line is great.

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    1. Fleur, first lines like that remind me of Kurt Vonnegut's style. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It's not the kind of travel I look forward to on weekends as my wife, daughter, and I travel to that part of the town nearly six days a week, to our offices located within a kilometre of each other. It's quite populated with suburbanites on weekdays.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your Independence Day. You're intrepid. I finished a novel from 1899 today with thesee closing sentences: "She leaned over the railing and dropped it [a ring] into the sea. It showed for a second, a white speck in the air, then the blue waters closed over it."

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    1. Ron, thank you for the kind words. With reference to the last line in your novel, one can picture a scene like that but it's putting it down on paper as well as the author has that counts, simple yet effective. I look forward to reading your review of the book.

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  3. Prashant, lovely post. I'm glad you enjoyed your holiday with the family.
    I hope you enjoy the Block - I may try his Tanner books in the future, I think he's a kind of spy with a touch of absurdity thrown in. Nothing too serious!

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    1. Thank you very much, Col. We take a trip within the city once in a while. I now have three books by Lawrence Block though I haven't read the previous two yet. I have only read about Evan Tanner and the blurb does suggest some light reading. I like a "touch of absurdity" in fiction and Vonnegut was a master at it.

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  4. Sometimes I rather enjoy browsing disorganized shelves to find treasures, but that would be a massive undertaking here it sounds like.

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    1. Charles, the books were lined up on cloth-covered tables from one end of the hall to the other and there were at least eight such tables, displaying hundreds and thousands of books and story books, paperbacks and hardbacks. I'd have spent an entire day browsing through the various sections. The organisers hold the book fair twice or thrice a year and I can always go back and look for another Block novel!

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  5. Hope you had a great day on the 15th (in Italy we celebrate 'Ferragosto' on the same day - the assumption of the madonna but frankly it's bigger than Christmas - well you know how us Italian feel about our Mums). I need to read more Block it's been ages! Great to see the photo of Mumbai - I haven't been there since the 80s when it was still Bombay ... All the best chum.

    Sergio

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    1. Sergio, it's interesting to know that Italians celebrate 'Ferragosto' on August 15. I didn't know about this event until now. I need to read Lawrence Block. Period. Hopefully, my new acquisition will take me in his direction soon. I miss the 80's Mumbai. Today, the city looks nothing like it does in the picture; everywhere else there are traffic jams accentuated by cars and bikes, people and potholes, and a general sense of chaos. It's still the city of gold and chance, though.

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  6. I also enjoy your posts where you talk about life in India. Some of it so familiar and some of it so unfamiliar.

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    1. Patti, thank you very much. There is so much to talk about life in India that I wouldn't know where to start. Of course, it would be out of place on this blog. We often feel that Americans live vastly different and superior lives from, say, Indians, and while that is true to a great extent, there are a lot of things that are also common, like parenting and school-going children and the hurly burly of life.

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  7. A fascinating post about your day, Prashant. It sounds like a great day and I envy you your access to book fairs like that. I have read the first Tanner book (The Thief Who Could Not Sleep). It is a lot of fun but it also touches on the Turkish massacres of Armenians during and after World War I, which I found very interesting. I have the next one (The Cancelled Czech). I love the titles.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. Family outings are good and relaxing. We don't have as many book fairs as I'd have liked to see in Mumbai and the secondhand books market is slowly dying too. I haven't read anything by Block so far and hope to remedy that aspect soon. His titles are unusual, I agree.

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  8. Really interesting post, Prashant! Like the others above, I greatly enjoy reading your reflections on Mumbai life and Indian culture in general (plus lots of talk about old books).

    I haven't read any Tanner books but Block's Bernie Rodhenbar (sp?) cat burglar series of humorous mysteries and his more gritty, violent Matt Scudder private eye novels are both good reads.

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    1. Thanks very much, Jeff. I quite enjoy writing about my city in the context of books and films. Unfortunately, I no longer see as many secondhand booksellers now as I used to in the 80s & 90s. Many of the pavement stalls I used to frequent have vanished since the municipal authorities evicted them. There're a few good haunts yet and I can't say how long they'll be around. I haven't read anything by Lawrence Block so far and I sincerely hope to read his three books in my basket by end of this year.

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  9. Sounds like you had a really nice day browsing all those books Prashant.
    Count me as another who enjoys reading your impressions of your homeland.
    Colin

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    1. Hi, Colin. Thanks for the appreciation. Mumbai has its pluses and minuses; these days more of the latter, though. I never pass up an opportunity to browse through books wherever I see them, on footpaths or at book fairs or in new bookstores, although I don't necessarily buy any. In fact, most of the time I don't buy a single book as I already have plenty to read. I'm currently hooked on to vintage fiction dating back a century and more which, as you know, are available legally in public domain. I read these on my Tab. Lots of good books to choose from.

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  10. beautiful post! glad that we stumbled on your blog.

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  11. you might like to check out this article on mumbai we posted recently: http://www.theweekendleader.com/Travel/1743/maximum-city.html

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    1. Weekendleader, thank you for visiting and commenting, and the link to your website. Mumbai is maximum city even if it is exasperating most of the time.

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  12. I love the texture of these books. Very effective...
    I am so grateful Bookworm Central is a Virginia Book Fair company. We do two book fairs a year and were burnt out on the vendor our community used in the past. We were definitely excited to learn Bookworm is a Northern Virginia Book Fairs company, as it is very important to us to support local companies that provide a great service. Bookworm thank you for being a company we can be proud to partner with

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    1. Steve, thank you for writing to the 3Cs and introducing me to Bookworm Central. It's a pleasure to just read about books from anywhere.

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