|Photo © Prashant C. Trikannad|
I usually don’t post pictures back to back. However, I couldn't resist posting this photograph I took last Sunday, of two largely secondhand booksellers in the old central business district of Mumbai. These fellows are “sitting” at the junction of Veer Nariman Road and Mahatma Gandhi Road at Flora Fountain (Hutatma Chowk, or Martyrs’ Square). A few more booksellers are on the opposite footpath, outside American Express Bank. They're the last of a handful of used booksellers in the area; the rest were driven out by the municipal corporation more than a decade ago.
They sell all kinds of books including vintage paperbacks and hardbacks. The books are preserved in cellophane. Very rare books are rarely on display. They are hidden away and are brought out for regular customers or discerning readers. These booksellers know the value of their books for they seldom bargain. If you want a book, you buy it, perhaps with a marginal discount. If you haggle over the price too much, they turn their backs on you and put away the books.
If you look at the picture carefully, the third stall in line is a footwear seller whose immediate neighbour is a sugarcane juice seller (not in the frame) followed by a seller of stationery items (I think) and two more booksellers. The man with the large white sack walking along the footpath is a ragpicker or a scavenger, one of a thousand of his kind engaged in the city’s unorganised recycle trade. Every single non-biodegradable item that I throw out goes into his dirty sack, so to speak. You can enlarge the picture for a better look.
The stone facade that you see behind the booksellers is the Gothic-style Central Telegraph Office building erected by the British over a hundred years ago. A couple of months ago, India Post succumbed to competition from its virtual enemy—email, sms, whatsapp, whatnot—and officially shut down telegraph services across the country. The night before saw a mad scramble by people who wanted to dispatch one last telegram for the sake of posterity. The death of the telegram, after 163 years, made headlines the next morning. Hopefully, the old books will be around for a long time.