“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”
Milan Kundera’s oft quoted statement kept slipping in and out of the shadows over the last 9 days – literal shadows hunching around street corners, lurking under flyovers, while the insidious kinds, cloaked within statements and observations doled out with a frivolousness characteristic of the middle class have-none-want-it-alls, lurched around ponderously.
Dick Francis, Clive Cussler, P.D. James and a host of others took up residence across wooden shelves ensconced in the three corners of that little library. There were other people too. Names that hover around when I close my eyes but vanish when I reach out to them. A lot of Hardy Boys and Tom Swift as well. I remember that because when I did start reading them years later, the name Dixon sprang across from the cover and sunk its pointy ‘X’ into my face.
Above all else, I remember the smell of that place. It was a short walk from home. My mother walked me there a few times after which I made the journey on my own. Kindly old man would let me in and give me a stool to sit on. I didn’t read much. Just looked at the covers, those beautiful, colorful, fascinating, mysterious book covers. So full of life, adventure and things I didn’t know the words for back then. They were all there. But I didn’t read much. I just took in the smell of that place. Old books. Nothing quite like that smell.
Present day Bangalore, and a bookstore called Blossoms. Nothing as romantic as whatever childhood had conjured up and distilled in my mind with respect to libraries and old bookstores, but it’s a nice place. Struck up a conversation with an American there who was looking for books his young daughter could read. Steinbeck was one of the authors he was looking at. There was a moment where I found the one affordable copy of Mice and Men that both of us wanted and handed it over to him. There was a bit of no please take it, no, no, you take it, are you sure? yes I’m sure. He gave it back once his wife told him that someone dies in the end. I didn’t know that. In between laughing he said he was sorry for spoiling it for me. I said it’s okay. Steinbeck always kills someone, as long as I don’t know who, I’m good. It was a moment of sorts.
I picked up a whole bunch of books. I wonder if my shuffling through the aisles aimlessly after a point wasn’t an excuse to dwell in the memory of that childhood library. He had those pull up blinds in his little office. They were still a novelty back then. To me anyway. Glass panes with a blinds membrane. Brown panels holding those panes in place. A small stool outside the office. Book shelves towering over me. The smell from all those old books floating down to pool around my feet. I think that’s why I have a soft corner for used/old books. Not just the smell. Buying them is giving them a home again. I could never part with my books. They are too much a part of me. The memories created through them, around them, with them – how does one just give it away?
Anyway. I digress.
Memories. Is where it’s at my man/woman.
A wonderful trip to the south of the country. From Bangalore through Mysore to Ooty and then onwards to Coonoor.
Beautiful place, friends, family, food, two very interesting neighbors and their dog made for an exhilarating week.
I won’t get into the place, friends, family, food so much. I want to talk about the neighbors. An abstract painter, Antonio E Costa and his partner, the poet/painter Tanya Mendonsa, living in the tea estates with their dog Ninoshka.
Antonio is a tour de force, to put it succinctly. At 74 his energy puts to shame the fittest of us and his zest for life and what every day brings is an absolute joy to behold. From tales of growing up in Africa to his life in Canada, from meeting Santana to watching Hendrix play, Antonio, much like a tornado, can talk up a storm out of absolutely nothing. There was a moment during dinner one night where a particular song swept him on top of the chair and we witnessed dancing – unbridled and pure. We didn’t spend as much time with Tanya but a writer/poet has their own way of pulling you into their world. Together, they will have you putting away food and wine with little regard for time or the world that awaits you back home.
It’s the people in your life, mine at least, that make it interesting. I’ve always believed that and karma/life/chance holds that belief of mine in good stead.
By the end of the trip, old memories that had been swirling around unhindered were being pushed aside doggedly by the new ones. New friends and books took up domicile wherever they so chose to and I just went along.
There were a tense few minutes with a Gaur though, the dense memory of which will not be swirled away so easily.
Coming around a corner we came up against this adult Gaur or Indian Bison. Barely 15 feet from us, he looked at us, snorted a few times and then let us pass. We held our steps, breath and bowel movement till he did. I think having Ninoshka with us had something to do with it. I’d like to think so anyway. Assuming I have a choice in the matter, being smeared against the ground by a 2.5 tonne vegetarian isn’t how I’d like to leave this planet.
Some photographs from the trip.