I was in Kolkata for the annual national Psychiatry conference and though they had planned an exhaustive schedule for us delegates, I’m sorry to say I didn’t avail much of it. The reason is that Kolkata is an amazing city; it’s very air carries something poetic which is not an atmosphere that’s very conducive to academic pursuits. Instead, I asked google where in Kolkata is famous for books, and it pointed me to College Street.
College Street is just what its name suggests: A street full of colleges and therefore a street full of books catering to college-goers.
It was difficult initially to find my bearings after the cab had dropped me off at a random corner- because every which way I see were hawkers trying to sell me medical/accounting/engineering/school textbooks. Now, I came here to get away from textbooks; so, after walking around for 40 minutes (during which my anxiety idiotically precluded asking for directions), I was almost ready to give it up as a wild goose chase, and already composing that disappointed epistle in my head for you, my one reader. And then, it happened!
I actually opened my mouth and asked for directions. It didn’t get the go straight and take left sort of response I was expecting though- every dada just pointed vaguely and said, that way. Well, I went “that way” and what do you know? BOOKS! Stacks of books that made the past 40 minutes of aimless meandering absolutely worth it!
College Street is filled with makeshift shacks selling books. Some of them hoard piles of fiction and non-fiction of the sort that is not school-oriented. And all of them are dirt cheap.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorites. When I heard that another book written by Harper Lee was going to be published, I was so excited. Then, came the meh reviews. Not to say it put me off from reading the book, but it did dampen my enthusiasm in ordering it even after the designated cooling-off period had passed. That day however, it was the only book I bought in “new” condition and paid the full price for. I guess the atmosphere triggered the nostalgia and since, I hadn’t stumbled upon the trove of used- book stacks yet, I just didn’t want to go back empty-handed. Rs. 360/-
I wouldn’t call myself a Shakespeare nut. However, I still want to read his works because I have a certain fondness for his particular brand of crazy and also, I hate not understanding the references. Apart from those scholarly motives, I’m putty for any book that looks super old. Rs. 240/-
In my last haul, I explained about Ramayana. While I consumed the myth largely as stories narrated by my lovely grandfather, my waxing interest led me to start reading its translated versions too. I remember in fact, this very book sitting on my grandfather’s shelves during the summer holidays we spent with him. Shifting houses and renovating homes however, saw it gone. This is an attempt to reclaim that bit of summer childhood. Rs. 60/-
The title of this book is Mrityunjaya- The Death Conqueror. The cover intrigued me when I saw it laid out on the pavement, but I was also a little scared that it’ll turn out to be one of those cheesy, cliche-ridden, try-hard horror flicks. However, it’s not! Because this is touted to be the autobiography that Karna deserved. Karna is one of the characters in the other Indian epic- Mahabharatha. He has one of the saddest stories of being abandoned by his royal mother, raised by a charioteer and ending up on the wrong side of the war against his own brothers- a fact he’s unaware of until the eve of the battle. He’s known to be one of most generous and noble of warriors who held the respect of his peers despite being the sidekick of the antagonists. I’ve always been very taken by his grey characterization and this was a book I just had to buy! Rs. 150/-
Okay, this one again is a hark back to my childhood. I like to believe that my sense of morality has been significantly influenced by Enid Blyton’s view of the world through girls’ boarding schools. Whether that is good or bad, I don’t know. But, I do receive immense pleasure from rereading her Malory Towers and St.Clare’s series at least once a year. I have all of them in the e-format, but I tend to buy physical copies wherever I come across them to complete the collection. Rs. 25/-
This one again is a re-read because I consumed all of Jeeves’s wisdom from the internet when I was 18 and going through a Wodehouse-phase. But, there is something just so satisfying in reading about the shape of Jeeves’s head off the physical page of my physical copy. So, I picked it up for my collection. Rs. 150/-
Another of my collections is the Perry Mason series. I love the courtroom drama and the last minute reveals that’re so characteristic of these books. At the same time, the inherent sexism of the time (which is generously doled out in the books too) makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know how much longer Mason’s smarts can make me overlook the misogyny, but, until that fateful unhaul, I prefer to get my courtroom thrills from the 20th century. Rs. 50/-
I’d first heard of Rebecca when I was attempting BBC’s Big Read Challenge, and since I forbade myself from reading the blurbs before picking any of them up, that’s the extent of my knowledge about this book. Now, I had given myself a 1 year time frame for that challenge, which went soaring out the window thanks to medico-life. But, I’ve continued collecting the books from that list- especially since some of them are quite difficult to find in India without buying a hole through your pocket. So, this is another book crossed off that list. Rs. 100/-
Whenever I go on such a used-books jaunt, my eyes are peeled for Archie comics. I love these digests! But, they’re really, really expensive to buy new. So, this is where I can get my fix. Rs. 160/-
So, that’s the haul. The total expense (including the new book) came to Rs. 1295/- which I feel is very reasonable given the hours of pleasure I’m walking away with.
After my exams that is.