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The moral dilemmas of a Bibliomaniac

The Crossword on Turner road is special for me.

Many a monsoon mornings and summer evenings have been spent in its aisles, smiling at familiar front covers or staring at new ones. Clammy, sweaty and eager hands have picked up and dropped books; turned and flipped pages; and even smudged and smeared letters. At Crossword, choosing the right book was hard, but choosing the right bookmark was harder. Many a happy ride back home had me drooling over my new paperback- who would be my companion for the next few months.

Books truly are someone else. They converse with you. They bring along with them a prodigious portion of knowledge and wisdom, which, for a world drowning in information, are the only tools available to stay afloat. And for a bookworm like me (I’ll unabashedly admit it) Crossword, was a Sanctum Sanctorum. From Amar Chitra Kathas to Agatha Christies, every book I owned was from Crossword.

But I haven’t been to Crossword in five years.

We are a family of readers- possessive ones. One will find multiple copies of the same classic; just different editions from different times. Every reader leaves their mark in the book. An underlined phrase here, a short note there- same book, same text, different interpretations. So when we stopped visiting Crossword, I was surprised.

But books somehow still came home. Because there is a neat network of carefully crafted code which recommends the Next Best Read to my parents like a good old friend. Earlier they would browse in Crossword, and buy on Amazon. But now even browsing in brick-and–mortar seems primitive.

The process of buying a book has become platonic; with no physical manifestation of book-yearning. You add books to your wish-list, wait for the price to drop, check what others are buying, and compare the price from seller to seller before buying it. Book buying is supposed to be spontaneous; you like it, you buy it. You don’t add it to a digital directory waiting for discounts.

Now I am a picky eater and an even pickier reader. Both have allowed me to develop an eccentric taste. And Crossword seemed to be the only place that would please my palate. It baffled me how people could buy a book without first turning it over and over in their hands. Without reading and re-reading the blurb. Without fidgeting with the wrapping impatiently, just waiting to get home and rip it open. Because online books lacked the intimacy I craved, I stopped buying books altogether.

When one doesn’t do what they should do, they come up with the most ludicrous excuses.

In order to curb my burgeoning lethargy towards reading, I decided to visit a book fair. A fancy book fair. Buy Books by the KG. For every Kilogram of books bought, you pay Rs. 500.

I spent 2 grand that day.

That was 6 months ago.

Recently I visited an even fancier book fair. Buy Books by the Box.

There are 3 boxes of increasing sizes and increasing prices to choose from. If you can fit all the books you want into the box, its yours. If the previous Book fair was degrading books, this one was downright dehumanizing them.

But that Sunday morning, the place was packed with people. And that’s when it hit me, and it hit me real hard. These people are ardent book lovers, with a genuine passion for reading. The only reason they are here is because Crossword is too expensive and Amazon is too expansive.

Most of the people were first time readers, rummaging through the orange army of Penguin Classics. Others were rookies, confusing a Camus for a Kafka or an Atwood for an Austen. And some were the storybook savants; we were often mistaken for volunteers as we helped pair authors with their novels. This is book-readers camaraderie; solidarity born from exchanging something more than just statutory smiles or cigarettes.

Spending an entire afternoon with fellow readers made me appreciate, more than ever, the primacy of books and their unfiltered authenticity. Everyone here was appreciating the same thing. You’d see mothers trying to squeeze in that Geronimo Stilton into a box already brimming with Nicholas Sparks and John Greene. You’d see people going through their lists, ticking each title as they track down the next target. You’d see people tallying the number of books and calculating whether its wiser to buy the bigger box, or buy fewer books.

Me? I was busy searching for the “one”. The one who would take me back after my hiatus and remind me of all those restless nights spent after reading a cliffhanger. I ended up finding two. It was going to be a long night.

As I hit the checkout line, I started introspecting. I was absolutely mortified at the idea of buying books for such a trivial price, but at the same time, I discovered two gems I wouldn’t have found otherwise. There was a time when books were reasonably priced and one could hoard more books than they’d actually read. But now, books don’t come cheap. So the only options for bibliomaniacs are book fairs. And just like that, the Crossword on Turner road is no longer, that special.

PS: Books remain the only medium marketers haven’t touched with their murky fingers. Keeping that in mind, this post was NOT sponsored by Crossword. Clearly.


Anandita Chandra


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