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!).
WHICH WAS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK SHOP WHEN YOU WERE A CHLD?