I am sitting in Kitab Khana in Mumbai, one of the rare remaining bookstores that does not belong to a giant chain. It feels like a heritage site- heavy wooden furniture, iron wrought beams, statues and art on the walls. I am sitting on one of the leather couches, legs folded under me and for a little while I let my fatigue overwhelm me. As parents of young children, it is a luxury to allow yourself to be tired and just stop to rest.
A young lady, moderately pregnant, sat down on a chair near me. She wore diamonds in her ears and on her fingers and a big bag with the name of a famous brand printed on it. She ran her household from the bookstore. Chinese chicken fried rice and vegetable manchurian for lunch and paneer for dinner for her husband, light bulbs for the bathroom and a scheduled time for a driver to pick her up from the store. She did this all while leafing through Cosmopolitan and Vogue.
An old man was seated to my other side. He had been reading a big thickish book. He looked up at me and our eyes met. “Today, not many people read books.” he said. He wore old fashioned horn rimmed glasses, his shirt and pants neatly pressed; he carried on him, in the neat parting of hair, in the slight stoop of his shoulders, an air of faded dignity.
“We bring our children to libraries and book stores whenever we can.” I told him. “Good, good,” he said and then looking at the girls, he continued,”They are your assets.” “I hope they will be their own assets.” I quipped.
He smiled and pointed to his book, “So many great lives..” I peeked at the cover. Sugar in Milk, Eminent Parsis. “Are you Parsi?” I asked. “Yes.” he replied and for a while he seemed lost, gazing into space. “You miss the old days?” I asked. “Yes,” he said “Look outside, look at those cars. Where are they going to go? Where are they going to park? The young today are carefree, they do not think for themselves or for the world they live in.” He got up slowly, tucked an umbrella and a newspaper under his arm and with a slight nod of his head to me, took his leave. I watched him walk out into the Mumbai rains and hoped he headed to a warm home.
Bookstores can be resting places, they can be meeting places. By their very nature, a refuge at all stages of life. I hope they will still be around when I grow old. My daughter comes and asks me for a book on Vishnu, the Hindu deity. She is wearing a pair of shorts and an Indian tunic. “I am American inside and out.” she often tells me of herself. “Maybe, not so much.”I think to myself and smile as I get up to help her find her book.