Friday, June 20, 2008


On my eighth birthday, my mama (mother’s brother) gave me a totally wonderful gift that changed my life. Knowing that I was a bookworm, he took me to a tiny shop, tucked away between a shoe shop and a shop for picture-frames on the busy-busy S N Banerjee Road in Barrackpore.

The S N Saha Book Shop was a twelve-squarefeet cramped-wooden-platform-on- stilts, covered floor to ceiling with piles of carefully-arranged secondhand books, with the eponymous owner (S N Saha) perched precariously on the said piles. But that tiny, cramped space thrilled me with the promise of vast unread treasures waiting to be discovered.

Mama gifted me two books, which could be returned after reading and two more books taken (at the wonderfully affordable rate of Rs. 1/- per book-reading, with a deposit of Rs 10 per book), and so on. And so began a long, long journey through the colourful world of paperbacks and potboilers, with the amiable S N Saha as my navigator.

Our weekend visit to my mamabari would always end with a half-hour visit to S N Saha's Book Shop, where I would return the books read over the week (my subscription soon increased to four books per visit) and browse and borrow my book-fix for the coming week.

S N Saha would sit on a heap of luridly-coloured and provocatively-titled Hindi pulp-paperbacks (I have no clue as to the contents, but the army soldiers of the Barrackpore Cantonment would come for their weekly fix of thrills). I was interested in the high piles behind and beside him – the endless supply of Enid Blytons he would whisk out at a moment’s notice, like multiplying rabbits out of an enchanter’s hat.

After reading and re-reading all available Blytons (it took me the best part of two years), I graduated to Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys’ and the Three Investigators’ series with a foreword by Alfred Hitchcock (I liked these best). In between, there were the comic-relief of Tintins, Archies and Richie Rich-es (I know it is blasphemous to speak of all three in the same breath, but my curiosity was as indiscriminating as it was immense).

Then there were the girly-goosebumps Mills-and-Boon phase, and the what-will-I-do-if-I-get-caught-thrill of the fast-and-furious sex-and-scandal world of Jackie Collins. And the best-selling potboilers (better than most, actually) of Sidney Sheldon, whose heroines taught me to dream big. And many, many more.

When I went to study in Kolkata, my college was situated in the heart of the College Street boi-para (neighbourhood of books). I met and befriended many other second-hand booksellers and their un-mapped book-jungles (along with my then-classmate-now-spouse-fellow-bookworm). But S N Saha remains a nostalgic favourite, because he was the first to quench my book-thirst with affordable sodas (the champagne-classics are another story!).



Aleta said...

The bookstore is no longer there, since Katrina. But I loved to go there as a little girl and even as an adult. You could buy used books. The pages were crisp and neat like new books, but they had the feel of being appreciated and that made them valuable to me. The neat thing is that if you bought the book and then returned the book, you could get store credit on the return and put it towards buying another book! It was great money wise and felt like it opened the door to reading more!

lopamudra said...

I really never had a favourite bookshop when i was small.My father who travelled due to his job,used to get books for me.I remember the 'english translated' russian books which i immensely loved.I got all the comic books from the paper man and the enid blytons either from my dad or from the school library.

Lazyani said...

My favourite has been the various AH Wheeler shops spread across the various railway stations of the country. With them you could return the read books and get back 50% of the money. And you could do it at any stall irrespective of wherever you may have bought it.

ugich konitari said...

Probably belong to the generation before yours, but we used to POUR over these Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers series. There wasn't a book shop as such, but my school gave these as academic prizes on annual days. Then there was a book called "What Katy did". The Secret Seven and Famous Five were also there but Mallory towers was really what all the girls read .....

sukku said...

We never had the lending library as you mentioned in Kuala Lumpur, maybe there could have been, but I wasn't aware. But started the reading habit late, when I was in India as my girl-friend then(my wife) was an avid reader. I actually started buying books so that I can read them while I am travelling and also to kill time in Chennai. I have read the Sidney Sheldon series, most of it anyway. Read some indian authors, I like Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I also liked Kiran Desai and Anurathi Roy. Nowadays it's mostly philosophy books & books by John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, etc) and I double park the another one before I can finish what I am reading. I have bought a book by PG Wodehouse titled "What Ho!" the best of PG Wodehouse.

Btw Thanks for sharing this piece

Piscean Angel said...

Wow !!! Your reading "journey" has been quite similar to mine... the way u graduated from Enid Blyton's to Nancy Drew's to Mills & Boon & so on. :) And in fact, I used to go to this lending library opp. the Archies Store in Gariahat for my "fix" after I became a teenager. The Blyton's, Nancy Drew's and Classics being easily available in our school library.
And hey ... I think we went to the same college too ... mine being at the heart of boi-para as well. I was there from 92 - 95 in Chemistry dept. What abt u ???

Piscean Angel said...

Ohhh yess, I'm from that same "pres"tigious institution , indeed. :-D

Amit said...

very nice & nostalgic post.reminded me of my school days.

The Scatterbrain said...

oooh! books books.... I grew up in a small town where there were no bookstores or good libraries. I had a small collection of books and comics and the other kids in the campus had a few. We would read and re-read what we had. Whenever we travelled anywhere, my parents would buy me comics and books from the pushcart book vendors in the railway station.

As a child my favorite railway station was the Palghat (palakkaad) station. Thats where my mother and i stumbled upon "Anne of Green Gables" I went back there to get the next one in the series and the next. To this day, I might have read the Anne series abiut 15 times and I can still go on!!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hi everybody,

thanks for the peek into the memory-lookbook.

Buy-a-book, rent-a-book, read-a-book and re-read-a-book, don't we love them all?