Love among the Book Shelves

You can never be lonely at a bookstore, if you are a bibliophile. One may extend this fact and conclude that it’s true not just for books but also for other interests: a glutton will never mind dining at a lonely table at a restaurant, a movie buff will not find it unusual to go alone to the movies and watch the screening of a much-awaited movie.

I seldom eat alone. It is, as Paul Theroux puts, ‘one of the most depressing activities’. But there are times when I have to eat my lunch alone. And unlike most people at work, who are paid by the number of hours they work, I enjoy my ‘holy’ lunch hour; I must get out of work, got for a stroll. I love to walk on the streets by the side of restaurants and then make a choice as to where I will eat my lunch. I enjoy that freedom of having to make a choice – amongst Mediterranean, Indian, English, Continental; Vegan or Vegetarian; Healthy and lean or Rich and fried, and so on. I take my time, and, after much deliberation that a Libran is known for, I decide on what my lunch will be. It must never be a take-away. I either eat-in or never eat at all. I don’t like to walk my lunch. Eating is such a private affair, you don’t want to walk around and display to the world that you’re busy , you’re worried , you’re walking fast and eating your lunch, or that you have ham and lettuce and cheese, and tomato sandwiched between two thick slices of freshly baked multi-grain bread. The sight of a man, dressed for work, walking and drawing out a sandwich strangulated inside a transparent cling wrap from inside his trouser pockets appalls me.

The lowest common denominator of all needs of us humans – rich or poor, black or white, tall or short, Caucasian or African – is Food. If you exclude all the higher needs of a human, what remains at the dregs is: Food, besides of course clothing and shelter. Then, why not pay the food its dues by sitting in one place and eating it than make a public display of what you’re eating.

Anyway, if you think there is a disconnect between what I intended to start off in the first paragraph and the rest of this writing so far, then let me retract back to what I wanted to write about.

I often like to give my mind a therapeutic treatment of the sight of books in a good book store. After I eat my solitary lunch, I always visit Fuller’s Book Store on Collins Street in Hobart. It falls on the way back to work from where all restaurants are.

I love the sight of those neatly arranged books – new books, paperbacks, re-printed classics, hardbound; fiction and non-fiction; history and current affairs. I often delve around the fictional and classics section where I get to browse the magic of Orwell, Hemmingway, Albert Camus, Ulysses, Steinback and the likes – I don’t find my Indian favourites: RK Narayan and Ruskin Bond in this store, but that doesn’t disappoint me. As much I love the smell of fresh paper, I know I can’t afford the embarrassment of picking a book out from the shelf and smelling it. Yet with so many people reading from the new books, the air is filled with the typical whiff you get at a bookstore.

I see people around me sauntering around the shelves – some like me with no book in hand, some with one book, and others with two and few with more than two books. I never followed them beyond that point to see if they purchased those books but it did look to me that they intended to buy them. And me – I would simply walk slowly from one end of the shelf to another, and then back again, gazing at the same books as I did just a while ago. I’d pick up some books I have read in my Kindle. I’d read some lines from a page in between to see if they read the same in print as they did in pixels. There are some books of whose starting line I vividly remember – such as PG Wodehouse’s Thank You, Jeeves,and Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers. And it gives me a shot of queer happiness to read lines I knew of before as if I knew what the writer was going to write. Strange, I know, but I do this often. It’s just how books and I play with each other.

One strong reason for my frequenting the book store is that I have gone cold-turkey on purchasing more books for the past 2 years. Since I got a Kindle, I have resolved to not buy any printed books. There are two reasons for this. First, because I resist making any place home, and I keep travelling every 2 years, I cannot afford to lug my books around upon relocating. Baggage and cargo are expensive and I have given away all my books I had in my past travels simply because it was not practical to ship them. Second, Kindle books are cheaper. Therefore, I do a rather strange thing when at the bookstore. I decide upon a book I want to buy. Then I say to myself, ‘You won’t regret buying this book. Buy it. It feels good to hold; it’s an excellent story and what a great author! Classic piece. A must buy. Add to your collection.’ Then I turn to rear jacket and see the price tag. It may say somewhere between $19 and $50- average range! Then I pull out my mobile phone, key in the name of the book and check the Kindle price – it may say $8.99. I then put the book back and walk away from it. I seem to self-tantalize and then convince myself that I must not buy the print version for the two reasons I mentioned above.

After some more sauntering and touching and rubbing books, feeling the edges of the crisp pages, checking the binding, the typesetting, comparing prices between print and pixel versions, making a list of books I must download, I look at my watch and I exit the book store. Yet another day goes by when I have entered a book store, loitered around for quarter of an hour and return without making a purchase. I wonder if someone watches me each time I do this, maybe the lady at the cash register, or someone manning the CCTV. They may well think I just come ‘to make love among the bookshelves’. The origin of this phrase, and the title of this piece, is attributed to one of all time favourite Indian authors – Ruskin Bond.

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The Accordion player – Jimmy McGuinness

Sometimes certain strangers make a mark on our minds even without us having any conversation with them. Their appearance, their behaviour, talent and a myriad of other things about them may attract us to them and make us their secret admirers.

For the past few weeks, during our evening strolls by Brisbane River, Shobha and I have been observing an old, petit man playing the accordion and filling the pleasant smelling air of Brisbane with unadulterated romance. The melodious sound emanating from his accordian drew my attention sharply towards him every time I spotted him. I stood by him each time for a few seconds and appreciated his music and dropped a dollar or two into his flat cap laid on the ground. I mentioned to Shobha how much I liked him playing and how I wished to just put up a chair in front of him,close my eyes and get absorbed in the pure magic of romantic music he composed.

We saw him three times in the past three weeks: twice by the river side, and once on Edward street. There was one thing I noticed about passers-by. As they went past him, they turned towards him, smiled and walked away with a smile. Some nodded their heads while looking at him in appreciation of his music. I felt happy that he is able to see that his music was being appreciated.

Today, we saw him again by the riverside. And I admitted to Shobha that I wished to speak to him or atleast have a pic clicked with him. I dropped a dollar into his flat cap again and we sat on a platform right in front of him and watched him play the music, with the splendid Story Bridge to his back. Shobha broke into a conversation with him.

We learned his name was Jimmy McGuinness.A 65 year old Kiwi pensioner, Jimmy took to playing the accordion when he was eight. He mentioned that he has played in Wellington, Brisbane and also Ireland. Shobha found Jimmy very cute. And why not? He indeed looked cute. Down is his picture. I feel Jimmy’s distinct style of dressing is just right for the instrument he plays.Jimmy carried a small suitcase with him which contained few laminated newpapers cuttings with his picture besides other things. He was excited to show us the newspapers cuttings from New Zealand. They were nicely laminated and showed Jimmy McGuninness playing the accordion on a variety of occassions, one of which I vidly remember was Valentine’s day.

Jimmy McGuinness – making magic with his Accordian

Jimmy told us that he will leave for New Zealand after a couple of days and that he won’t be back until next year. I thanked God for letting me talk to Jimmy just before he was about to leave Australia. I did not know he was going to leave before we spoke. We had seen him three times before and each time I had hoped to see him again. We met for the fourth time today. We talked. And all this happened just before he was leaving. It feels special indeed that I did not miss the chance to talk to him lest I would have been left assuming that something happened to him if I wouldn’t have spotted him again on the streets of Brisbane.

With Jimmy McGuinness – last one before we meet again
Shobha with Jimmy

We shook hands with each other as we took his leave.It started raining slightly.Jimmy said, ‘This will pass away soon’. The rain indeed stopped soon. So did the moments of conversation with the ‘accordion player’.

An evening with Antoine on Spring hill

Antoine had invited me and my wife to dinner. This turned out to be one of the best evenings spent so far in Brisbane.

Everything was very fine about this evening. Antoine’s warm and cordial company was matched very well by his simple but delicious pasta and Greek salad with a glass of Vina Rosa. Antoine remarked that he did not cook very often and so he asked us whether we liked the food. I rated him a 10 on 10 and Shobha wanted to give him an 11! He found it flattering and felt that we were just being good and courteous guests. Then I did something which in my opinion is always the best expression of appreciating  good tasting food. I got up and took a second helping – almost as much in quantity as in the first serve. He was overwhelmed and felt happy.  Considering that he spends most evenings by himself ( because his family lives in Sydney ), this was indeed a happy evening for him in our company.

Antoine setting the table
Auto-click! Guten Apetit!

The dinner concluded with Vanilla ice-cream on Apple pie and a cup of hot, black Dilmah.

We then sat in his balcony and chatted for a while before Shobha and I took his leave. One of the finest evenings, truly.

The Story bridge looked splendid – with blue diamond like lights – on our way back home. The way back home was noisy! Three reasons for this – One: today concludes the Brisbane festival which had started on September 3,Two: This is a Saturday night, Three – And this is important – Tomorrow is ‘National Sleep in’ day in Australia in support of people afflicted with mitochondrial disease ( who have no choice about being bed ridden ). God bless them all and give them strength.

Cheerio.