Home » Culture & society

Books in Three Narratives

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on December 29, 2008 2 Comments

5:10 pm. Ma and I find ourselves at the NOIDA Trade Fair at the old circus grounds. There are stalls selling some Limca Book “record-breaking” variety of honey; “stomach flattening” abdominal belts; South Indian gold-plated jewelery; pleather accessories; miraculous “Ayurvedic” herbal supplements promising to cure every ailment known to man; tamarind, mango, and pomegranate flavored digestive “churans”; exquisitely fashioned jute furniture; elaborately woven Kashmiri carpets; thick Garhwali woolen vests for men; and rows upon rows of food stalls-serving up piping hot South Indian idlis and dosas, North Indian chola bhaturas, Mughlai rolls, North Eastern momos, and Gujarati sweets. About midway through the Fair, we find a book stall. I am suddenly shy as I ask the stall-keeper if I can take a picture. He is a little taken aback, then flashes a big grin: “Zaroor!” (Urdu: Of course!). I take in the spread of books through my camera’s tiny viewfinder…they are mostly supplementary English grammar, general knowledge, and geography texts, cheaply manufactured. I snap some photos, then thumb through some of the books…their glossy covers are plasticky to my touch, and the ink is smudged on several pages. I put the books down and move outside, where I see two little kids pointing at the alphabet chart…”E IS FOR ELI-FENT!” says one. “F is FOR FLAIG!” says the other. Their mother smiles on dotingly. I then look up at the flyers plastered at the top of the stall. Flyers announcing “Emotional Intelligence” “Pencil Shading” “Common Errors” “Sentence Maker (Must for your Children)” and “First Pictorial Idiomatic Reader for Young Learners (Ages 7+ & 8+) Not to be Ignored” compete for space. We start walking off, when I notice a 5 year old girl holding her mother’s hand, smelling an illustrated grammar book. For a second, I am her, at a book fair at the Pragati Maidan, eons ago…my mom by my side, I smell the books, the fresh ink smell so very seductive, and I touch the books that we couldn’t always afford, leafing through them rapidly, pretending to “read” them…”Usree? Cholo, jai?” (Bengali: Usree? Come, Let’s go?) says Ma.

6:30 pm. After a ten minute search, we finally find some parking in the Brahma Shopping Complex. The unofficial “attendant” rips off a ticket for us, and we head into the market. I feel inside my bag to reassure myself that I remembered to bring my camera. I relax as my fingers press against the thick canvas of my camera bag. Just inside the complex, by the stairs (that don’t seem to go anywhere), there’s a book “stall.” It always carries the bestselling books-by authors like Nora Roberts, Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer, Sydney Sheldon, Judith Krantz, John Grisham and others, all pirated versions manufactured illegally and inexpensively. A few Harold Robbins’ are tucked shamefully in the back. I ask if I can take a picture, and the man cringes, asking if I’m a journo. I laugh and shake my head. He allows me to take pictures. I take two, then walk off with ma. We head out to a mall in Sector 18, when I see another stall, this one outside, in full public view. I take a quick picture from the car-it comes out dark, and I worry, but we’ve got impatient cars, cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians behind us. I wonder why all the pirated books come with plastic covers. As we drive on, my eyes catch the Police Chowki sign right next to the stall.

8:40 pm. The children huddle close to the television set on the cold cement floor at an orphanage. Their eyes are riveted to the Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Ram episode they are watching on a slow Sunday night on the Cartoon Network. While Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Ravan, Shurpanakha, and Hanuman from the Hindu epic hold them in their thrall, I take the time to wander around with my camera. It’s a massive room, with about 25 beds arranged neatly in rows. There are pictures on the wall of gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon, with short prayers in Devanagari beneath the images. There are several pictures of some Gurus as well, again with accompanying texts, some in Sanskrit, some in Bengali. I move towards the bookshelves to take pictures. The iron bookshelves, with one shelf for each child, have been recently repainted to mask the rust; on them are are piles of dogeared and much-thumbed notebooks and textbooks, and some trendy brightly colored school bags. I reach out to touch one of the textbooks, and my fingertips darken with dust. The children continue watching Ramayana as I walk away from the room, down the winding stairs, into the Kali temple. I take pictures of the big bookshelves there, lined with mostly “serious” devotional texts, mostly geared for spiritually inclined adults, in Hindi, Sanskrit, Bengali, and English. There’s one book that catches my eye: an ’80s biography of Sunil Gavaskar, the former Indian cricketing star. Odd. Most of the books look like they haven’t been touched in years, maybe decades. I go back up to where the children are, and their tutor, “Bidyut”, tells me the children don’t like to read much, and he wonders why.

Tags: , , ,

Digg this!Add to del.icio.us!Stumble this!Add to Techorati!Share on Facebook!Seed Newsvine!Reddit!

2 Responses to “Books in Three Narratives”

  1. Youki on: 5 February 2009 at 10:55 pm

    are the North Eastern momos like the ones at Kathmandu restaurant on Solano? I love those! If we have a FIT party we should go grab some.

  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 6 February 2009 at 12:28 am

    I have never eaten there…though I imagine they cannot rival the ones I used to have at Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, as a kid!

    Let’s definitely plan for that FIT party…

Leave a Reply:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  Copyright ©2009 Found in Translation, All rights reserved.| Powered by WordPress| WPElegance2Col theme by Techblissonline.com