There are places in this world which you actually will miss if you blink. This is one such place. 7 feet by 2 feet, that's all the space it occupies. In the daytime it is enveloped by a cacophony of cheerful conversations, indignant arguments and incredulous beseeching. In the evenings it exchanges these for the illumination from the typical 60 watt clear bulb dangling from the red and black twisted wire, and perfumes itself with the bewitching smells of sandalwood incense and jasmine, a potent combination that I like to think is India's alone.
Odds and sods drift in and out, hardly spending a fleeting few minutes contemplating a lightening of their purse. Sometimes the rupee notes shyly unveil themselves, at other times they don't. The rotund figure who is master of this space is generally perched on the single metal bar-stool. He deigns to chat with a chosen few familiars and casually ignores the rest. There are instances when that seat is empty and he's sharing a 'cutting-chai' with his acquaintances a little distance away.
I'm one of the those he speaks to. I've even shared that cutting-chai on occasions.
This infinitesimal space, crammed among its siblings, is lined with second hand books. Wall to wall except for the entrance of course. Books that no one will read any more. Books that no one will print any more. Books so tattered that no one can read them any more. Rare editions and cheap prints. Tales of long ago and others that are...well... porno. Books frayed at the edges, books well thumbed, books with spines as deeply lined as the wrinkles on an old man's face.
I cannot remember the first time I crossed its threshold and now I don't want to. The instant I enter, the sounds of the world outside melt away and I'm left in blissful silence. I've spent hours just sitting on the floor (no mean feat, mind you) and browsing through the tired and dusty stacks. Sometimes I get the funny feeling that 'they' are waiting with bated breath to see which one of them I'll pick this time. I've tried to leave empty-handed and failed spectacularly on each and every occasion. I've revisited my childhood by buying whole series of novels that were around long before Harry Potter was needed to enthuse people to read.
While I am there, my shoulders drop and the masks come off. There are no expectations. I flip through random pages and travel the world for free. I can dream with my eyes open and for a few moments, chase that unicorn named innocence.
Have you ever wondered why yellowed pages have that unforgettable, mesmerizing scent ? The answer isn't that romantic... and it's probably not fair to break the spell here.
It is my place of refuge.
CROSSWORDS ? Don't make me laugh.