Sunday, November 21, 2010

the birthday post

I thought this birthday I wouldn't write one and nobody would miss it but then people asked me where the traditional mail is and orey excited I became!
So here it is.

The past year I have seen more of the computer screen than I have in the previous ones.
The past year has seen so much more love - it just keeps growing exponentially.
Aforementioned year has also seen me obtain driving license! Woohoo!
I still am a magnet for mallus.

I have made new new friends.
Old ones seem to renew themselves everyday.
I've gotten over old fears.
New ones have taken their place.

I've travelled lots! Orey.
Orey is the word of the year - it has taken over the whatay kingdom.

The Western Ghats. Period.
I used to be good at sketching.
Now I only draw stick figures.
I wish I had the same ability to simplify in thought.

IwantogotoAfrica Icantwait.
I love skirts.
I love kurtas.
I love shirts.
I love stoles.

Buy of the year: pink pajamas. Feel like a thirteen year old.
Some teenager called me 'didi' recently and I suddenly felt very old.

Piano has arrived in the life and I am inexplicably happy about that.
The trick is to find the constant to find permanent comfort.
Not look at something bound to change and then whine (though you may whiskey..).

People care.
But our lives are governed by immediate circumstances.
So what about sunrise and what about rain?
The man will never die.

I dislike people who eavesdrop.
It's easy to apologise.
You don't notice the love that's in front of you because you're too busy looking over your shoulder.

Editing is making me learn english and forget some.
I can't chop an onion without chopping a finger.

I love exploring cities.
Junk-jewellery-window-shopping is soul-satisfying.
Too many hyphens, too many hyphens.

I sometimes don't listen to songs that I know will make me feel.
But only there does lie manna.

I love birds' feet - yellow of mynas and pink of pigeons.
I love donkeys' eyes.
I'm terrified of anything below ground - caves, tunnels, even metros sometimes.
I love bookshops in airports.
I love in-flight magazines.

I get incredibly awkward when people ask me to read aloud my poems.
They're meant to be read, not listened to!
Shy comes.

Every birthday, I am awed, thrilled and touched by the number of people who call.
This post gets shorter by the year.
I feel younger.


Monday, November 01, 2010


You only had to jump across an arm's length to get into the terrace of the neighbouring house. But nobody ever tried. Windows faced windows in dangerous proximity, eliminating the slightest chance for privacy. One could hear low murmurs behind drawn curtains, and the mixed smells of everyday cooking drifted about on its morning rounds.

Inside the building, the staircase was narrow and almost always dark, the steps steep. The yellow bulb had long gone and nobody had bothered to replace it. Brownie, tommy, rocky, doggie - they all had different names for him- used to lay his heavy brown body across the third and fourth steps, curl up and sleep contentedly, oblivious to the many visitors who always almost stepped on him. He never budged.
Everyone came out to their terraces in the evening. Kids played cricket, stopping only after invoking the wrath of the neighbourhood aunties who threatened not to return the ball from their compounds the next time. Men smoked intermittently, and so did two black-eyed young girls; in the corner lay a pile of absently strewn stubs and a couple of old bottles. The starlit night sky watched over couples, throwing their long black shadows into rough denial of embarrassment.
Afternoons were silent with clothes drying mutely on the washing line, save the lone caw-caw of the hungry crow.

Monday, October 25, 2010


She was old. A little out of tune due to age, but her tone was rich from years of experience. The bass keys were deliciously low, heavy and guttural and the higher ones were full and shrill, but not unpleasantly so. They gave me the feeling that there might be two or three other notes lurking beneath the key I just pressed. The sustain was terrible and she was loud, very loud. Tones merged into semitones, semitones into tones. There was something curious about her- she seemed to be ignorant of absolute pitch, yet each note was absolute in itself. I lost my mind and fell in love.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

on memories

I've always wondered where the phrase to know something like the back of your hand came from. I don't know the back of my hand one bit and I've never really taken out the time to examine it. If I close my eyes I would just have a vague idea of what my hands look like. I have a clearer picture of the hands that I've held though, possibly because there is so much more attached to feel than to appearance, and you can relate the former to the latter.

You see your hands everyday but don't know how many wrinkles are there on your knuckles. You don't know how many veins show on each hand and if they're the same number on both. But they're around, you know, you can examine them in detail anytime you want. I'd like memories to be that way - not really getting in the way, but just being around, so that you can pull them out and go over the details anytime you please.

There is no recollection that is effortless. Watch how your eyebrows come close together in intense concentration when you try to remember the details of an bygone moment which you clutched close to your heart and vowed never to forget. The one you carried around and thought of almost everyday, and then once in two days, and then once in a while, spilling a bit of the detail each time, till it became chiselled and sharpened to a few select features, nudging the others into the background, till it became a memory of a memory. You frown to yourself and squint at the picture, wondering which paint tube to use to reproduce this shade which you can see oh-so-clearly in your mind's eye but cant find in all the pantones.

And then you reconstruct the original moment by putting all these bits and pieces of memories together carefully, telling yourself that this was how it was, this was what it felt like, because - without even knowing it - you've already forgotten. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

vellore calling

I've found that I'd rather revisit a place that I've been a part of than visit a new place. There's no place in the world I want to go to more than I want to go back to vellore. I can feel it so strongly. Sometimes you just know. (Whales in the wild, wait for some more time.)

Firstly, Kasam beckons. I remember the kids - loud, shy, curious - their smiles, their endless stream of questions. It's a calling. There's a magic in their spirit which is contagious. There's a certainty in my wanting which I haven't felt often. Out of the gazillion feelings that make up life - Kasam roused a feeling that I can cannot replay in my head. It was only when I went there with a friend of mine who agreed to teach photosynthesis to a class of ten-year olds that I realised, as I stood watching, how much I loved the place. And the children. And their blissful, naughty-happy faces. I recall clearly the cheeky boy in class who got tired of me talking about the states of India and tried to convince me that he's from Africa instead. It makes me smile every time. I know I have to go back to Kasam and fulfil the promise.

I discovered in Vellore my love for long walks. Morning walks, afternoon sun-scorching walks, evening walks, walks in the dark, rainy walks. Grassy walks, highway walks, happy walks, angry walks, teary walks, lonely walks. Walks to Brahmapuram, walks on Gandhi Road, walks to the station, walks to nowhere in particular.

I think of the cows sometimes - the one with the big red horns that I'd fondly called Red Bull, the small frail one under the dark-leaved tree, and the one with dark circles around its eyes. I think of the beetles - even those became special after I learnt that they were harmless and only pretended to be intimidating. I think of the hills and the secrets they harboured - from bird's nests to broken bottles. The dry summer fields, the morning mist and biting chill. The unexpected ponds during monsoon which always surprised even though I knew where exactly they were; it always felt like the first time.

I'm not in love with Vellore for the memories. There's something in the air that is addictive, something that got me hooked. It was a place I knew. The brown of it's soil, the green of it's grass, the blue-grey of CMC. I want to know what it would be like to go back there as a different person, feel like the same person, and come out differently again. I want its change.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

he says

It was that oscillation between feeling traumatically low and excitedly high that sank me in gloom, making me sceptical about living out life with an emotional gas regulator, always checking on how much feeling to let flow, how high to keep the flame without burning other people or burning out, how much of myself to express without feeling vulnerable, exposed, misunderstood.

- from Death by Music by Rukun Advani

Sunday, July 18, 2010


He was extraordinarily sensitive and his reflexes were always quick but not sudden. Outdoors, his energy never ran out; indoors, the weed and music kept him going. Life warmed to him - dogs, cats, birds, mice, lizards - they seemed to speak his language. He climbed hills with ease, and liked to wrap himself around a tree branch and swing upside down. He wasn't in the least bit shy - sometimes I felt like he was closer to early man and thought to myself that this boy couldn't have eaten the apple. There was something raw in his manners, yet there was grace. He was clever, though not very strong; he could work out the physics for better efficiency. He found his way mostly on foot and I suspect he was slightly uncomfortable with other modes of transport. He understood directions by following the sky, the hills and his intuition. He learnt through experience and experiments of his own, through feel, touch, taste, smell, sight and sound.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


In spite of having walked back to his house so many times after midnight he was always a bit shaky when he did. The cold would bite into his flesh through his heavy jacket and he would think of the comforting warmth that his home country offered -- to both her own and others -- in the form of a tea shop at every street corner. The chill back home was bearable -- winters were a time when women would gracefully drape their pashmina shawls around them and schoolkids wore monkey caps and looked just as silly as he once had. Here, shadows of large, tall buildings fell in dark alien shapes and sizes -- he nervously tried to look up, down and all around at the same time. A group of drunk students stood in a circle of loud laughter and threw a racist comment or two his way. A familiar fear gripped him tightly and he quickened his pace.

Strangely, he did not miss home much but the comfort of home. Life was hard here. He knew that he was a seeker. But he wasn't sure what he was seeking. He knew that there was meaning in his study and his work, that there was a purpose to his coming to this place. Yet an emptiness burned within him and alcohol neither fueled it nor suppressed it. In any case, it was too expensive. He was used to drinking bad quality roadside liquor -- the kind that transports you quickly and easily. It had been his constant companion throughout college, along with his usual pack of gold flake, but now he had not place for either. He remembered how she had hated the smell of gold flake in particular; the way she'd frown and reproachfully tell him to smoke another brand. He smiled at the recollection.

Family, friends and lovers -- all seemed to belong to a surreal world from which he seemed to be missing. They seemed to belong to the external now, not to the within. Sometimes he didn't take calls for days; some days he hated facebook with an intensity that surprised him; he stopped using skype. He didn't feel any better after the long distance mechanical communication -- if anything, it made him feel more detached. Questions of meaning and meaninglessness bothered him when he was not working in the lab or playing music. Which was most of the time, because he was the kind whose thought processes worked on different dimensions that were mutually exclusive and always multitasking. On some days he felt sick, as sick as the steel grey surroundings, and he'd throw up the little dinner that he'd had.

He had called her once, and she hadn't taken the call. By the time she'd called back he'd lost the mood.

He got home, relieved, and realised that he'd forgotten dinner. He could hear the couple in the next room clearly so he pulled on a pair of headphones and shut his door. He absorbed himself in studying the chords that he'd been trying to pick up for so long. Sometimes he spoke to his guitar; sometimes he heard it speak back to him.

Slowly he realised that he'd been alone for so long that he quite liked it.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Sometimes I just sit and play a note once, twice, thrice, over and over again. It's almost a form of meditation. Sometimes I let the note ring, sometimes I hold the pedal down till it fades away into silence. Sometimes I cut it short, forcefully, in a vindictive staccato. Like I should have let it be but I didn't.

Only recently I've been playing something that is slightly close to what I wish to express. This reproduction from the inside to the outside (both while playing music and writing) is a somewhat tricky issue. Experimenting with Buckley's Hallelujah, I was surprised, and rather pleasantly so, to find that I play completely different chords when in different moods. Try to play what's in your head, then forget the head, and the expression is all right.

Writing, in many ways, is like playing the piano. Or vice versa. There are no incorrect sequences or combinations of words. Throw in a bunch of random chords and make them talk. You forget the rules and trust the sound.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Believers always have an explanation; half-believers use the explanation as an alternative; non-believers have a lot of explaining to do.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


We threw the relationship out of the window and now we have one.

Monday, May 10, 2010


The vividness is disturbing. The intricate details linger, in shapes, in colours. Places have an invisible force- vellore in particular does-it clings to those who've been a part of it. I can still strongly smell it's warm familiarity, not because of frequent recall, but because the aura still surrounds.

What a life that was. The freedom was gaping. There was untamed madness in the air, as perpetual as the smell of weed, amidst lazy class-goers and couples huddled on footpaths. There were the trains - I strangely miss them the most. Outside college, there was endless space, there was the hustle around cmc, there was kasam, there was china town, where you couldnt stay an hour without bumping into three people you knew. Vellore had its secrets- you had to know where to look- under shady trees, beneath your feet, in thorny bushes, in pacific bay, in burma bazaar, in bus 1 and bus 2, and of course, at katpadi station (carrot samosas!). Sometimes you had to look in tasmac.

The vellore sky was enormous. You just had to look up to see the orion and be reassured that all's quite well with the world.

It's now slowly sinking in - my reactions have always been late and drawn-out - that I will use the past, inaccessible tense whenever I talk about this home of four years.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

mince curry

The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers by Sarnath Banerjee is a gripping graphic novel woven out of strikingly colourful threads of history and modernity, madness and sanity.

The plot begins with the protagonist unexpectedly inheriting his grandfather's possessions, including the controversial journal, The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers, which records the events of eighteenth century British Calcutta, a time when the city cauldron bubbled with several atrocious activities and scandals. Begins then, the long and arduous search for the journal, amidst lusting men and women, psychics, skull-crackers, drunken priests, stoned babus and more, who all -- in spite of their eccentricities -- seem strangely real.

The artwork tells a tale in itself. The characters are dynamic and captivating; the aftermath can leave you seeing them in patterns of bathroom tiles. Banerjee speaks with a casual, nonchalant wit that takes a minute to grasp, cleverly beckoning for a reread. That moment of enlightenment annotates exclamations in the thinking mind. Digital Dutta, who appeared first in Corridor, Banerjee's first novel, takes us through the journey of his own character, and leaves you feeling well-traveled.

Entertaining, explicit, hilarious and poignant with a philosophical undertone (I almost had to refer to a thesaurus for that) the book is just awesome oly ya. Only upon the second read does one realise the ingenuity of this work; the careful stitching together of elements, the mixing of those 65 essential masalas, to produce something that will awaken, shake, disturb and indulge all your senses.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


It dawned upon him that the body travels but the mind stays unmoved, as confirmed by the great Arab traveller Ibn Battuta. He realized that sitting in his North Calcutta house, he had a pretty accurate idea of what the world outside was like.

By not travelling, he felt more travelled.Both in space and time.

- from The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers by Sarnath Banerjee; referring to my favourite character Digital Dutta.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

the journey

I remember exactly how our household back then used to sound - I always picked up the background noise. Lata and Kishore played in the mornings, alternating with MS Subbulakshmi. Both my parents being music buffs, a lot of subconscious listening went into our childhood. I was introduced to ABBA/Cliff Richard/Carpenters by my mother. My dad listened to a lot of BMK, and I remember downloading his thillanas one day at hostel because I suddenly pined to listen to them. Strange what you grow up on never leaves you. Michael Jackson was so much a part of our everyday lives that I still sing the same wrong lyrics from a permanent etching into memory, a reason why to this day I say mos-cow. I don't think I could ever forget the cover of that Dangerous tape, and the white ribbed plastic that made it easily identifiable long after the paper peeled off.

I owe many many hours of happiness - the kind of happiness that does not require and cannot be shared with anybody else- to a little black tape recorder that offered the discovery of and escapade to another realm. I never felt like I needed anyone - I was content. I think as we grow older we start looking for other people to make us happy.

I got gifted piano instrumental cassettes on every birthday- most of them being Clayderman. After that I moved on to Yanni and quickly tired of his arpeggioed style. I hadn't much exposure to jazz/blues- so most of what I played was old 60s and classical. I'd pick up songs at home, spending hours at the keyboard, and then go back to piano class the next day and try it out. Nothing compares the wood richness of heavy-keyed piano sound.

My brother started listening to different kinds of music when he was at school - I would curiously listen to his tapes - Bryan Adams, Deff Leppard (letsgetletsgetletsgetletsget "drunk!") , Duran Duran, Eagles, The Beatles, Knopfler, dinchak party music, Silk Route - they all featured on his playlist. Clapton, Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins and Simon and Garfunkel were introduced after a while. Ah, to have an older brother. He also opened my window to jazz (how could you not have heard Take Five?!). Sweet discoveries of Brubeck and Chick Corea followed.

Long after CDs were around, I still bought cassettes and stuck to my faithful black cassette player. We exchanged cassettes at school and I listened to friends' parents' old ones - ranging from old country to blues to classic rock. We were extremely lucky to have access to the Internet. I spent hours crawling the web referring to my ‘pop hits of the 60s’ handbook and downloading as many as I could with a dial-up connection. I used to listen to Yahoo Radio back then, when YM was awesome (and they still had Doodle!). Brilliant stations, brilliant songs. A lot of the music i got was through a personal journey of hunting online and retrieving. Zz Top, The Doors, Cream - all were painstakingly downloaded. Digital Dreamdoor was my bible (and to my great delight, introduced me to ELP!).

Harmony fascinated me. All my friends were in the school choir (both those who sang and those who lip-synced) and we'd get together every break, singing songs from printed sheets of lyrics. Of course we sang a lot of boyband songs, but what the heck. Singing in church was an experience - the organisation of the choir was brilliant and I loved how all the parts would come together finally and echo in all their fullness.

College opened up many many new worlds. Grunge and metal: Kamelot, Pain of Salvation, Maiden, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, Dreamtheater, etc. DVD collections arrived one day from Bombay - in it I found entire collections of progressive rock and fusion. Alan Parsons, Yes, Asia, ELP, Rush. The amount of time I devoted listening to those bands I cannot fathom now - I don't know how I had the time to listen to each and every song, find the ones I liked, and find favourite bits in those songs (I love this part!). I got to meet some amazing musicians who changed my life. I listened to different guitarists for months, before I comfortably settled on Satriani for his grace. Dave Matthews Band, Steely Dan, Jamiroquai, Bobby McFerrin, Shakti, Prasanna, Floyd, Extreme, Fleetwood Mac, Mr Big ; King Crimson, Tower of Power, lots of jazz - everyone had something to offer, a band or song to suggest till it became as much a part of the listener as the offerer. After some time, all of us at college had the same collections in our hard disks- some of them who would be misnamed forever. The newer Jamie Cullums, John Mayers, Jack Johnsons. Zero, Motherjane, TAAQ- there was no dearth of fresh music. The college bands, the others that came and went at fests. Acapellas, acoustics, live shows, a bunch of friends sitting and jamming.

Of course, bus rides always had interesting music too - Remo being my all-time favourite Tamil hit!

Sometimes I feel like I belong more to these songs than they do to me. I know where I'm living my parallel life.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


He did not know how wide a country, arid and precipitous, must be crossed before the traveller through life comes to an acceptance of reality. It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded. It looks as if they were victims of a conspiracy; for the books they read, ideal by the necessity of selection, and the conversation of their elders, who look back upon the past through a rosy haze of forgetfulness, prepare them for an unreal life. They must discover for themselves that all they have read and all they have been told are lies, lies, lies; and each discovery is another nail driven into the body on the cross of life. The strange thing is that each one who has gone through that bitter disillusionment adds to it in his turn, unconsciously, by the power within him which is stronger than himself. The companionship of Hayward was the worst possible thing for Philip. He was a man who saw nothing for himself, but only through a literary atmosphere, and he was dangerous because he had deceived himself into sincerity. He honestly mistook his sensuality for romantic emotion, his vacillation for the artistic temperament, and his idleness forn philosophic calm. His mind, vulgar in its effort at refinement, saweverything a little larger than life size, with the outlines blurred, in a golden mist of sentimentality. He lied and never knew that he lied, and when it was pointed out to him said that lies were beautiful. He was an idealist.

- from Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The book

And then it turns out that I published off a book :)

A collection of 49 poems in free verse, published by Writer's Workshop, Kolkata. Those interested in buying copies please mail or request a copy at


Sunday, March 07, 2010

breaking barriers

sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Sympathy, when offered, can hurt ego.
Sympathy, when not offered, can hurt.

But who needs it, anyway?

Sunday, January 31, 2010


He'd leap from rock to rock, sure-footed and steady, like he'd been climbing mountains all his life. She, enthusiastic but clumsy, would follow, her face flushed with excitement and the afternoon heat. She would link her arms with his, like so, so that that he could pull her up. He could climb trees with the agility of mowgli. His steamlined physique bestowed a lifting buoyancy of body and spirit, and he moved lightly. She stumbled, sometimes on all fours, sticking her tongue out unconsciously during the steep parts. Sometimes he'd crack a joke or two, and they'd break into peals of laughter that would result in her almost falling off. His openness made her shy and she secretly admired his ease. He'd walk in and out of thorn bushes unscathed, seeming to know the earth he was treading. But she'd almost always have cuts on her soft round arms, though he made way, holding the branches away from her.

Self conscious , she asked him not to look when she was going to cross a ditch on the way. He went first to the other side and patiently waited with his back facing her. She then prepared herself to jump, only to miss, landing awkwardly and off balance. She cried out to him (don't look don't look!) but he turned around just in time to see her fall; he laughed and helped her up, petting her like she were a child, even as she grew red in the face and dusted herself.

Friday, January 22, 2010

TAAQ at HRC Hyderabad

I screamed myself hoarse.

After four years in Vellore, and getting to see most of the gigs around in Bangalore and Chennai, but somehow managing to miss TAAQ each time, the wait was finally over.

The show was brilliant. They started off with one of my favourites, Look at Me, and by the end of the song I was already filled with that feeling only Bruce's tu ta paraburapurooo can express. The new song, Where the State has No Name is a bluesy, catchy number and has one of those choruses that comfortably settle down in your head. A total singalong song. I really liked that they wrote this one. I've always believed that TAAQ is an intelligent band; from their lyrics to the structure of their songs, there's a characteristic subtle wit that underlies. They're classic, they're contemporary. They reach out to the audience with songs like this one, and previously, with Keep the Promise, One Small Love and Shut up and Vote.

It was the first time I heard them play their signature cover, with its long intro (oh what tones on the guitar!) delightfully breaking out into Roxanne. At this point I glanced at the bouncer, contemplating my fate if I did get hysterical. De-arranged was anything but. I love how all the parts come together in their songs. I grinned throughout the show, and everytime Bruce went hic! during Drunk I grinned a little more.

Its always interesting to observe musicians during a live show. Bruce, with supreme confidence, picking, strumming, singing away in his strong steady voice, doing his plectrum-dropping act; at the same time not losing track of the audience. Rzhude, closed eyes, completely with the flow and completely enjoying himself, his thick basslines underlining clean riffs. You could almost hear him say as he cradled his guitar: this is my baby. Rajeev, swift, fresh young energy. I squinted at him intently for a large part of the show, counting in my head. Jason (haven't heard him play before), effortlessly fiddling about on the keyboard, bringing out some mind blowing solos like it was child's play.They played a fun version of Wonderwall with some interesting chords there. Mighty strange was mighty good, so was Bend the World. Paper Puli was trademark. And finally, Surrender stole the show. (Nice harmony, shouldaii shouldaii still rings in my head.)

The only disappointment was that there was no song from This Is It. They got our groove, yes, but what happened to mom made butter skies and all that?

But moving on. You can listen to TAAQ at home, scribbling those clever lyrics down with your tongue sticking out. Drive with them to work and do a BLM into the window of the nearest car at the signal. You can jog in the mornings with that TAAQ playlist on your iPod. Blast their music on a Sunday afternoon in an empty hostel.

But TAAQ, live?

Oh what a feeling.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Every morning I go for a fifteen minute walk. Even though there is some sort of a jogger's park nearby, I stick to taking the long and winding road. (Which winds back to square one and does not lead to anyone's door.) I tried walking in the park a few times, but the sight of so many people out for their morning exercise was overwhelming. Plus I like straight roads better than having to go around a circular track over and over again.

I see the same people everyday during my walk, and now I feel like I almost know them. There is uncle in the white t shirt and shorts, who walks with his son. Boy is usually dressed in blue and insists on pushing his red tricycle with great care. I suspect he's got an imaginary friend. They seem a happy pair, father and son. Once they got mom along and there was a whole new dimension to the picture.

Another companion is the great dane who confidently strides down the road like he owns it. His owner, a small man about the same size looks meek, positively scared and at heel.

Bespectacled aunty holds two big bulldogs on either side that look only half as intimidating as she does.

Short man jogs in the opposite direction, looking remarkably fit.

Old uncle gently ambles along with his Dalmation, whose head perpetually is in the nodding state, quite an agreeable dog. He peers at passers by, nodding and stepping towards them till uncle gently and absently pulls him away.

Strangers to each other, yet the mornings of our lives overlap.

Monday, January 04, 2010

kadambi booksellers

I have been living in Marredpally for quite a few years now, and every time I cross the main road, a big sign that says Kadambi Booksellers catches my eye. I had heard that it was an old bookshop, full of rare books, but had never got the opportunity to take a look inside. I walked into the shop today, expecting to find ancient treasures, but what followed was nothing short of a life-changing experience.

The owner of Kadambi, a man who is into his 84th year, sits at the front fumbling about with a radio. R N Acharya, who started the bookshop over 60 years back, tells me how the store has evolved over the years- starting off as a small bookshop in a garage to becoming one of the major landmarks in the city, and finally shifting to the current location on account of 'road widening' at Clock Tower.

The shop is neatly stacked and is organised by category. There are whole racks of NBT books, and it was thrilling to see the collection. The shelves are covered in dust; yet the books seem carefully preserved. He knows exactly which book is where, as he fingers for the book he wants to show me. 'Come read anytime', he says. 'You can stay here the whole day and nobody will disturb you.' One section of the shop contains technical books, mostly engineering, that he wants to distribute for free. 'Impart knowledge, not exploit knowledge', he tells me as he shows me his own personal collection of books that he read at school, standing on the bench for not doing homework. ('But I consistently topped my class!' he adds.)

'If you have the time, I will give you a synopsis of my life.' R N Acharya was born into a well-educated and modern family. His father was multilingual, a graduate of Presidency College in those days (three generations above us) and a correspondent for Reuters. His mother worked for LIC and even drove a car. After her early death, his father left the city. Acharya and his brother got jobs as clerks in the army and took care of the younger ones. Later, he started selling fiction books and also worked as a newspaper delivery boy. His shop picked up over the years and brought him to where he is now. He showed me photographs of his family, a collection of letters and postcards.

He talks of India before and after the British Raj, of readership, of the education system, of his own struggle for survival. 'It is only now that you have these modern conveniences. Back then, things were very different..' I realise that his voice speaks for his entire generation. So much about him reminded me of my own grandfather. While he uses an old typewriter to put his thoughts on paper, his brand new computer sits on his desk, covered with a blanket.

Here is a man who has regularly corresponded with politicians and literati (even Somerset Maugham-imagine!), has had bigwig customers, has earned the respect and goodwill of everyone he has interacted with, and is sought after by authors and publishers from all over the country. Yet, he humbly says- 'I have braved through the times. I don't know how, but I'm still surviving. I earn very little.' Acharya plans on writing a book, which will tell the story of his life. But I urge each one of you to go see him in person, drop by the oldest bookstore in Andhra Pradesh, buy a book, meet this simple yet heroic man who is an icon of generations.