Monday, 3 November 2014

Musings on a moody Monday

There is a crowded place called Irla some 4 km from my home in northwest Bombay (Mumbai) and on either side of the main street are retail stores selling everything from smartphones to electronic gadgets, dry fruits to household provisions, jewellery to saris, and clothes to footwear. Many of these stores are “custom notified” which means the goods (or contraband, in earlier times) are sold at lower rates, though, I don’t see how that matters now that India has opened up its economy, well almost. They only accept cash.

On the pavements outside these air-conditioned stores are a line of hawkers who sell fruits and vegetables, flowers and garlands, and ready-to-eat snacks the city is gastronomically famous for. Their trade is illegal but years of physical presence on the footpaths has earned them the right to stay put and shove pedestrians on to the road.

Beyond the hawkers and along the kerb are cars, two-wheelers, and autorickshaws double parked and causing traffic jams. Tempers and tantrums are traded freely. But man and machine co-exist even as human and vehicular traffic moves at a crawl.

It was into this cacophony of horns and hoots that my family walked into Sunday evening, to visit a bookshop we hadn't been to for more than two years. The shop is located in the back of a depressing mall. Once inside the bookstore, however, my eyes lit up and my spirits soared as I confronted hundreds and thousands of books spread over a vast area. 


Actually, it wasn't a bookshop; it was more like a dumping ground for paperbacks and hardbacks shipped from the West. Many of the books had stamps of their American distributors. There were all kinds of books, including popular and bestselling fiction by the likes of Grisham, Koontz, Cruz Smith, Deaver, Highsmith, Baldacci, Kellerman (husband and wife), Nesbo, Cornwell, King, Patterson, Rice and so on and so forth. The books were sold at Rs.50 (less than a dollar) and Rs.100 (more than a dollar). They were dusty but brand new.

I shot past this humungous heap of novels and made my way to a section that screamed Rs.20 (less than 50 cents) in bold letters. There I picked up my kind of books—five less-than-200-page paperbacks—one each by Ed McBain, John D. MacDonald, E.V. Cunningham (Howard Fast), Don Pendleton, and Robert B. Parker. I was satisfied with my lot but I was disappointed I didn’t find more.


My daughter bought Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001) by Laura Hillenbrand. The book is loosely based on the real life story of the thoroughbred champion race horse, Seabiscuit. She had seen the 2003 film version of the book starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Cooper. It was a good choice and I hope to read it in future.

There were lots of books by writers I wasn't familiar with and I hoped that I didn’t leave behind some really good ones that deserved to be read.

Apparently, I did, for on my way out I spotted an espionage novel called Dagger (1984) by William Mason who turned out to be William W. Johnstone, a prolific American author of western, horror, and survivalist novels. You can read about him and his work here and here.

This is what Dagger is about.


The time for project Eagle-Fall has come—and that means that the President of The United States is going to die. The Secret Service is on alert, but not all the President's men can be trusted. Somewhere a traitor is waiting to strike, and when he does, Dagger will be ready. War hero, ladies' man, soldier for hire, Dagger is the one man who knows the meaning of the word survive, the one man who knows the international spy network like the back of his hand. He knows every agent in the world…except the one who is out to assassinate the President!

I could have kicked myself. Hopefully, Dagger will still be there when I revisit the bookshop; hopefully, soon.

19 comments:

  1. I got a smile just from listening to you describe going into that story and seeing all the books. Love it.

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    1. Charles, that's pretty much how it goes in most parts of suburban Bombay.

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  2. Sounds like an enjoyable trip. Hope you enjoy the stash when you get to them. - what titles were they?

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    1. Col, it was a routine outing but enjoyable nonetheless. Going out with the family is always fun, no matter where you go.

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  3. Excellent. Make another trip soon! Stores like that have a way of just disappearing...

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    1. Richard, thank you. I intend to visit the bookshop more often and the next time I do, I'll take some pictures too.

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  4. I love hearing your descriptions of the city. Sounds like this bookstore is a hidden treasure in a dull mall.

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    1. Elizabeth, thank you. The book store is a hidden treasure provided you don't mind getting your hands dirty.

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  5. Nothing quite so exciting as browsing for hidden treasure - I've only seen teh SEABISCUIT movie but liked it a lot - npo idea how faithful it is to the true story though.

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    1. Sergio, it's always a pleasure to be in a bookshop even if you don't buy any. I think I have seen the movie, too, but not the original book version of SEABISCUIT.

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  6. Lovely atmospheric description Prashant, briging the area to life for us - and what a great bookshop experience!

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    1. Moira, thank you. I'm glad bookshops such as the one I went to are still around. The only disadvantage is that the people who man the bookstores have absolutely no idea of the books on sale. Most are mere sales people and migrant workers from the Hindi-speaking belt in North India. It's just another job for them.

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  7. The opening paragraphs of this post were my favorite. I get a little armchair traveler thrill each time you write about the cities and villages in your part of India. This was one of your best detailed portraits in words.

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    1. John, thank you. I'm happy you enjoyed this post. It was a routine trip for me but I can see why the experience would be a novelty for you and our other blog friends. I often feel that way when I "armchair travel" to bookstores in your part of the world. Next time I'll post images of the bookshops and some of the bustling life outside.

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  8. I can't believe I missed this post. What a lovely description. I wish I could go back to the bookstore with you.

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    1. Tracy, thank you for the appreciation. It's not a conventional bookshop in the sense there is no arrangement. The books are piled up on the shelves and on the floor rather haphazardly and not all sections are labelled. You have to literally dig out dusty books with your hands. I don't mind the dust so long as I find a few hidden gems.

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    2. I would gladly go through dusty piles of books for some pleasant surprises. We just sought out two used bookstores this weekend, and one we could not park near enough to, and the other is only open by appointment. I was disappointed. But I will just frequent the one near my workplace more often and support them.

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    3. Tracy, I have never heard of a visit to a bookstore by appointment. I suppose it's not a regular bookstore but one that opens to readers and visitors as and when they come calling. Next time I'll post some images of the dusty bookshop so you can have a virtual trip and browse around.

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  9. Sir, Can you give me the directions/address of this shop? I will be visiting Mumbai next month or so!

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