What Do Six Month Old Babies Do At The Library Memories: The Generous Book-Stall Owners Down The Ages!

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Memories: The Generous Book-Stall Owners Down The Ages!

Reading Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s latest book, At Home in the World – A Memoir, I found one incident or rather an experience of this great economist-researcher-scholar-writer-1998 Nobel laureate-1999 Bharat Ratna winner, regarding a book stall owner whom he frequented in the fifties in the famous college street area of ​​Kolkata, then Calcutta. I was delighted to find that this experience bore a strong resemblance to my experience as a book stall owner in the seventies. Well, two mandatory clarifications here: first, I didn’t title my piece after Sen’s excellent book, which means this won’t be a review, just a story, and I’m still going through the book, which, in my view, is of epic proportions, especially in relation to the history, culture, economics and heritage of Bengal from the pre-partition days; and secondly, there can be absolutely no imaginable comparison between the living legend and this non-being, for I said that this is only a story of resemblance, which I find very amusing and interesting.

Amartya Sen (his name “Amartya” was given by the legendary Rabindra Nath Tagore), after finishing his school education in Tagore’s Santiniketan, whose liberal atmosphere gave a definite shape to his thinking (especially his lifelong determination to work and research to eradicate the severe inequalities and religious divisiveness of the Indian society, influenced also by the great famine of Bengal of 1943 which killed almost 3 million people, and how to prevent the recurrence of such famines in the future which he always considered to be economically credible, citing the erroneous policies of the 2- a World War of the British), joined the Presidency College in 1951 for his pre-university course (today’s 11-12 standard) in Calcutta which was under the Calcutta University. His companion was Sukhamoy Chakraborty (1934-1990), one of the greatest economists of all time and who together with PC Mahalanobis was a key architect in the formulation of India’s Five Year Plans when he joined the Planning Commission, after returning to India. of his teaching in MIT in the United States. Later, Sukhamoy Chakraborty taught at the Delhi School of Economics as a professor of economics and during my post-graduate course (1979-1981) I used to look up to him in absolute admiration and respect, even though he did not attend our classes in my opinion. selected articles. Later, I was very saddened to learn of his untimely demise in 1990. As keen students of economics the name of Amartya Sen was very familiar to us, and I think, but not sure, he visited the D-School some time during that period . for a lecture. However, we must return to our story, because when we start talking about those times, it would go on forever.

Both young Amartya and Sukhamoy were obviously serious thinkers and bookworms. Their Presidency College was situated at the College Street area of ​​city and directly opposite to the college was the legendary Coffee House of Calcutta where all the Bengali writers and intellectuals had their addas, having endless debates that developed their thinking, tendencies and writings. This tradition continues even now and every Bengali intellectual, including students of course, cannot but visit the Cafe regularly. I also have the privilege of sitting in those famous surroundings inside where, apart from the addas there are also culinary delights with the inevitable cups of coffee. Outside the cafe are the numerous book stalls lining the streets around where books are sold like hotcakes and I would prefer to call those booksellers booksellers, because like all other sellers they are also constantly calling potential customers. come and get the book plates, a sight perhaps nowhere in India (in my personal experience, I have never found anything like it anywhere).

As usual, Amartya and Sukhamoy did not have enough money to buy every new book that arrived on the bookshelves of the stalls. Sometimes one of them would buy and lend it to the other or vice versa. They also started visiting a particular book stall where the owner didn’t seem to mind them sitting there for hours reading their favorite books without making any move to buy those. So, this continued, and at a decisive moment the book stall owner made the kindest gestures, perhaps impressed by the knowledge-seeking intensity of the young boys. He offered to lend them the precious books on the condition that the book would be lent only for a night and it had to be returned the next day, in its original form and quality. The generous book stall owner used to wrap the book covers with newspapers for this very purpose. It was a godsend for the young scholars and they capitalized on that as much as they could. Amartya Sen also tells of another customer asking the book stall owner how he managed to do business in this way. The owner was reported to have replied that if he did not want to manage in this way he would have gone for more profitable businesses such as selling jewelry. This shows how books are admired and almost worshiped in West Bengal even now.

Cut now to my “coincidental” part in the story. Also during my pre-university days in the seventies, exactly during 1975-1977, in a small town called Mangaldoi (now in Darrang district of Assam) I was a keen student, greatly helped by ‘simple living high thinking. ‘ inspiring and independent-spirited family environment. My clerk-clerk with a writer-author-translator served in that city for the second time, and following him we four children, especially my younger brother and I, were literal bookworms. We had then an old bicycle and I used to go to the Mangaldoi College every day which was more than two miles away from our rented house. We used to get books from the district library, college library and other sources of private lending. My father being an honest officer he had to manage his family of six with his limited monthly salary, and therefore, there was simply not enough money to continue buying new arrivals at the bookshelves; sometimes he bought and other times we saved from our meager pocket money.

I used to frequent a book stall somewhere in my locality to check the new books regularly. I felt that the old book stall owner had a very kind face and he always smiled at me whenever I parked my bike and came to the counter. That perception of him prompted me to try to read the books at the stall myself: I would usually ask for the book I wanted, retreat to the extreme corner of the counter, so that other customers would not be disadvantaged and start to eat the book a bit; most of the time I finish the book and send it back with a hearty smile; when I don’t manage to finish the book, voluminous, in one ‘standing’ I come again the next day and ask for the same book, to which the generous book stall never reacts negatively or shows its displeasure. I really enjoyed this divine opportunity to read and read new books without having to buy for months in my spare time, especially on the eve of holidays. Of course, whenever I felt a bit guilty, I used to reward the bookseller a bit by buying a relatively cheaper book.

Such generous book stall owners or sellers or even shopkeepers exist even today, I am sure. They are not cut corners sellers or competitors; they live their lives and do business with their principles held high. In my Kolkata stay I found a shopkeeper who gave my special items to me at a price less than the MRP. I was pleasantly surprised and asked him how he could afford to do this when most others try to charge even more than the MRP on some pretext or the other. He just smiles sweetly and says that it is very possible if you want to do it that way. We also find quite a few others in Mumbai and Kolkata who give away their vegetables or fruit for free, if we didn’t have the change in our pocket at the time, saying with a smile ‘take it Sir, where are you going!’ Excellent! I salute them all, as if I were certain; the greats of Amartya Sen and Sukhamoy Chakraborty obviously did and do.

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