Photo Courtesy Internet. (I forgot to copy the url address!)
The one good thing about having an obsession is that your mind is focussed; that helps in cutting through the cobwebs of the stagnant, mundane life that one is forced to live, of the unwanted thoughts that crowd one's mind all the time. One forgets, at least temporarily, the pathetic present. Thus, my obsession with mountains, esp., Himalayas, has helped me; sitting within the confines of a room, barred by the grilled windows and shut doors, suffocated by the swirling hot air of the ceiling fan - I soar; in my mind, I see the grand vistas, the perilious cliffs, the grandeur of the snow mountains; after several journeys in the Himalayas, my mental visions seem like a virtual reality show.
These days, wherever I go, I search out bookshops that sell old, secondhand books. New books are prohibitively expensive to buy - but more than that, there is a great pleasure in digging through hundereds of crap, sniffing like a hound unleashed, eyes rapidly roving through the shelves or rows or sometimes just piles of books and then - Zaaappp!! you home in - I am a bloodhound when it comes to books.
Last week I was in Calicut ( Kozhikode) for a week-long training programme. After sitting through the boring lectures and exercises till 1900 hrs, I jump into the first bus that takes me to the town and wanders aimlessly through the busy, crowded streets till 2200 hrs. I dare not go into my room before that because the guy with whom I share it is a TV jerk, all the time flicking through the numeous channels or watching idiotic programmes. In the mornings, I go for long walks to the beach or the market area which are ideal hunting grounds for an observer of human life like me; then, there are the old book sellers.
There is one near the famous Hotel Paragon - he had shifted his shop to a small cubicle beneath the flyover. As I enter the shop, I start with my usual query - ' Do you have any- any books on Himalayas, photographs or travelogues or - just anything? This guy - I recognise him, because I had been to his previous shop a few times - offers a couple on Nepal. He said he had a few others but all sold out. The other books he shows, I already have. I tell him my objective; that I am looking for books on 19th/20th century travels in the Garhwal Himalayas ( This is a plea to you too, my reader - if you chance upon any, do let me know). We strike up a conversation and I tell him about my passion. He listens to me shyly and says if he comes across any book, I'd be the first to know. He asks me about my travels to Himalayas. When I tell him that I had been to Kailas/Mansarovar, about my bike ride, his eyes widen and I could see he is awed. He looks at me with almost devotion.
I buy a few books; the ones on Nepal, one on mountaineering, an old poetry collection - I pay for them and turn toleave. Then the bookseller says - ' Sir, you see, I too have been to Himalayas once.' 'When', I ask him. 'In 1985, I went with a group of people on a 3-month long pilgrimage all over India and visited Kedarnath, Badrinath.' He pauses. He looks around at his rows of books vaguely. In his slightly turned away face, in that faraway look in his eyes, I see him walking over the mountains once again, trudging along the bridle paths.
My heart goes out to him. I want to hold his hands. How so well I know this man! I ask him if he went again. He is silent for a while. He shakes his head. 'I wish I could, Sir', he says. 'But what with the books and a family to maintain ...' He sighs and changes the subject. 'Have you written anything about your trips', he asks me. He politely listens, but I could see that he had left his shop and walked over to the flyover and standing on the railings beat his wings and flew up into the darkened skies.
******** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 07-02-2012