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Missing old acquaintances

Missing old acquaintances

Abhiraj Ganguli |

I miss the old paara libraries and second hand book sellers. For those who are unfamiliar with these parts, the Bengali word paara literally means one&’s locality or neighbourhood and a time was when such establishments dotted almost every area of the city. 

I particularly remember the little one on Satish Mukherjee Road well – barely the size of a large living room, it nonetheless housed hundreds of books that were lovingly arranged on rickety shelves from floor to ceiling. Open for only a couple of hours in the evening, it had a wizened old man in thick-rimmed glasses who would sit hunched over heaving piles of books stacked on a long table.  He feverishly scribbled on slips of paper, attached them to the respective books, and wrote down the identification number and title of each in a tattered register.

I didn’t dare ask his name as the librarian had a rather forbidding countenance – my primary apprehension was he might never let me cross his path to browse the shelves behind. But such an eventuality never came to pass and my first brush with writers such as Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay happened in that little neighbourhood library when I was in school. 

Thereafter, thanks to a relative, I came to know about the May Day second hand book sale in College Street. Books were priced at Rs 30 or Rs 40 each, and one could come away with loads of  books by spending only a few hundred rupees. The only hindrance to getting my hands on a long-wished for title would be the excruciating May heat. And yet those in the know congregated at the place in droves – the   sun notwithstanding. The books on sale were well worth the trouble and I remember buying a rare biography of photographer Sambhu Saha once. Comparing my stash with those of my college mates was an experience I quite looked forward to every year. 

But now in my late 20s with time for leisure being in short supply, the process of scouring for books has gone online. Instant gratification and convenience dictate the ways of the world these days – one can order a book without moving an inch. Gone are the days of contending with an unfriendly librarian or scorching summer temperatures. And that, in a way, is indeed a welcome thing as the wheels of time chug on to bring about inevitable change. That said, my paara library still stands and the May Day College Street sale is doing just fine without me. The zeitgeist of our times is moving on without looking back, but at times I do miss those old acquaintances.