Not the Bookseller of Kabul (a book I have read) not the Bookseller from the Mountains (a movie I have not watched), this is about an unknown bookseller who ambled into our residential colony one warm summer afternoon and changed my eleven year old life forever.
In the outskirts of the town of Alleppey – or Alapuzha as it is now called – in the late sixties, my choices as regards reading material was pretty limited. I don’t remember our school having a library. If they had one, they made a good job of hiding it from me. Voracious reader that I was right from early childhood, I usually finished reading my English text book, and the Malayalam one too, from cover to cover on the first day itself. Then there were the occasional comics or children’s magazine that father bought for us, and comics shared by generous friends.
The other saving grace was the local library nearby which stocked books in Malayalam. Many of the books it stocked were unfit for an eleven year old to consume. But I read them all anyway, whatever I could lay my hands on, even those mother took for herself to read, totally disregarding – nay expressly disobeying – parental strictures. I am pretty sure I finished all the books they had on offer.
Things were such when the bookseller arrived like a breath of fresh air. Of course we didn’t know he was one. A bent old man in a white mundu and shirt, with a cardboard box on his head. What did the box contain? Books, he said. He was selling books. Did Amma want any for the children? I remember looking at mother anxiously. Hopefully. Would she say yes, or no? To my joy, she said, yes, he could show us the books.
The bookseller carefully slipped the cardboard box off his head and put it on the cool floor of our front room and squatted beside it, fanning himself with the cloth he had rolled up on his head to balance the box of books. One by one he took out the books and laid they on the floor beside his box. They looked so colorful. Archie comics, Richie Rich and Dot. My eyes looked at them with longing. No comics, mother said, disappointing me. Next to the comics were multicolored paperbacks. The author of one of them caught my eye. Enid Blyton. I had never heard of her. Hard as it may seem to believe now, I was eleven and still had not read or even heard of Enid Blyton.
Your children will like these books, Amma, the bookseller told my mother, waving his hands at the books by Enid Blyton. My mother had not heard of the author either, but she decided to buy two books for us. Five Had Plenty Of Fun and Second Form at Malory Towers. Neither of us were aware at the time that they were part of a series. Though sad that I couldn’t get any comics, I accepted the books with good grace. I don’t remember if mother got any books for herself because by then I was too busy checking out the predominantly green and glossy front cover and the pink spine of one book and the yellow and white combo of the other. I soon had my nose buried in one that I did not notice the bookseller being paid or hoisting his wares on to his head and leaving.
There was no looking back since that first book. Enough of Malayalam novels meant for adults. I was now hooked on children’s books by Enid Blyton. If anyone was willing to buy a book, I requested for ones by Enid Blyton. I didn’t know which one of the Five I wanted to be in the series about them. But I was pretty certain I wanted to study in a boarding house like Malory Towers. What fun! Would I be a fiery tempered Darrel or the calm and collected best friend of hers, Sally? Decisions, decisions! Soon though I had graduated to other books in English. A whole new world had opened up for me. The journey started off by an inconspicuous man who came to our doorstep selling books still goes on.
© Shail Mohan 2020