As soon as he saw me from a distance, Pal of Pal’s Book Shop would place a stack of MAD magazines on the counter for me to go through. When I reach the shop, Pal would say with a smile, “Aashun, didi. MAD magazines-ta dekhun.” (Come, elder sister. Take a look at the MAD magazines.)
This was ages ago in Kolkata when I was a school girl and crazy about MAD magazines. Pal understood that I was an impecunious student who almost never had any pocket money.
But he let me browse in his bookshop without buying or renting any book. So everyday, on my way home from school, I would dawdle at his shop pretending to go through the MAD magazines while surreptitiously reading all the jokes on the front and back pages. After a few minutes, I would say, “No. I have read them all.” He would nod sympathetically and return the books to the shelves and I would make my way home. When I did have some money, I would actually rent books from him. Renting books was ridiculously cheap; you could rent a MAD magazine for two weeks for only 75 paise and books for just one or two rupees.
Browsing in the second hand books stores on the streets of Kolkata was my favourite pastime when I lived there and since all my siblings and both our parents were book lovers, our house was full of books. So even at home, I could happily browse a bit before selecting a book to read.
The other day, my sister presented me with a Kindle. It neither looks nor feels like a book but for a book lover, the printed words are the main attraction. What does it matter if the words are on paper or on a screen? I was hooked instantly. The words transformed themselves into images in my mind and I had as much fun with it as I would with a book.
I remember when I used to accompany this same sister to the South India Club library when we were in Kolkata. She would pick authors like Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt and P G Wodehouse while I, younger to her by a few years, would zero in on the Enid Blytons and the Billy Bunter series. Then we would stand in line to get our books stamped with the return date. Now with a Kindle, I hold an entire library in my hand. I can browse endlessly, pick any book at any time that suits me and then, I don’t even have to return it!
Today, I live in a small town which does not have a single bookshop, but I am still able to browse books. With my smart phone, I browse, select a book, order it and within days, a young man comes round to the house and hands it to me!