December 27, 2013

The Relic - Soumalya Chakraborty

The hand picked up an ancient broom and began dusting the shelves. Rows upon rows of books were cleansed of the fine layer of dust which had settled upon them over the last 2 days. As the broom swept it away, Manik asked himself if the effort was worth it. After all, dust was the only companion his books had these days.

Manik was the owner of Chowdhury Book House, one among the numerous second-hand book stores which dotted both sides of College Street. The shop was opened by his grandfather during the late forties. His father had then taken over and bequeathed it to him. As he looked at their framed portraits, he knew that his would be the last portrait in that series on that wall-IF that wall would still exist. His daughter had no intention of continuing the family business and who could blame her? It appeared nobody cared for books any more. The same stall which kept his predecessors busy all day during their times was now a shelter for cobwebs, termites and forlorn rows of old books. Their wrinkled covers and yellow pages resembled a bygone generation slowly heading towards oblivion. 

"Manik Da…still no customers?" smiled Tarun as he wandered from stall to stall, serving tea in small earthen pots. Manik accepted the steaming cup and took a satisfying sip. 

"No Tarun, and looks like another dry day for me apart from your tea", Manik replied.

"You know what, a few students had come yesterday to look for reference books on Botany. I picked out some of the best titles you'll ever find. They turned the pages for a while and left. Where do you think they'll get better books than those? Our business is 3 generations old. I know all about books and can confidently say that in Kolkata, if you are looking for titles on Botany, those books are the best you'll get."…a tinge of anger seeped into Manik's voice as he sipped his tea-louder and longer this time.

"Manik da, it's not about the books. Nowadays, it's about where you buy them from. Urban youngsters don't like rummaging through dusty shelves of old book stores any more. They'd rather go to a swanky Crosswords or Oxford. Or they'll get entire titles as E-books" Tarun shook his head. "It’s not just you Manik da. Everybody here is talking about the same thing".

"But e-books? Don't they care about holding a book in their hands? Take in the smell of printed paper and be proud of a well-stocked shelf?" Manik could not believe it.

"The time has passed us by Manik da. For us, business isn't about making money. We truly are passionate about the products we sell. But things are not the same any more. The shopping malls have tea shops where they sell tea in earthen pots, just like the one in your hand. But to drink it there is trendy, buying from me is not" Tarun smiled.

The past is now a relic-put in a showcase and exhibited as a sideshow. People who are still living it ought to fade away.

It was a cold winter evening as Manik downed the shutter of his shop for the last time. The small truck had carried away all the books, the stall was up for sale. He was currently considering two offers-one of a fast food joint and another of a barber.

Tarun arrived just as Manik was walking away. "Manik da, your tea"

Manik looked back, "Well Tarun, maybe at another time, in another life, I'd be the owner of a Crosswords at City Center and your cafe would be beside mine, serving tea in earthen pots to youngsters. I'll have my daily two cups from you again. Hope you will still maintain my account in that book of yours-no wait, not a book, on your Laptop that time", Manik laughed at his joke. A laughter that was all sound and no emotion. 

Tarun watched as Manik's silhouette faded away. A homeless beggar rushed to pick up a few yellow pages which had fallen off an old book. The pages would keep his fire going for a few more minutes.

Tarun walked away. The cold night descending around him.

Soumalya Chakraborty

About the author: Soumalya Chakraborty did his Masters in English Literature from University of Hyderabad and have been here since 2006. He currently works in a Gaming company as a Project Manager. Though professionally he is not into literature but reading and writing have always been an integral part of his life and will continue to be. Soumalya joined Bengalis in Hyderabad actively in 2011 and for him it's been a blast so far with all the friends. He has organised activities and has participated in. The networking he made in Bengalis in Hyderabad has benefited him till now. ____________________________________________________________________

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