It is nothing more than a habit these days that I go looking for books and magazines at the Sunday bazaar. The once buzzing Sunday market has now been reduced to just a few hawkers selling film fare and other celebrity scandal magazines. Rest of it has now been taken over by hawkers who sell cell phone accessories and cheap clothes.
This might be my most embarrassing confession as a professional. I have picked up books with fancy covers in order to decorate interior spaces so as to fill up the empty ledges. I even remember at a house warming ceremony of my esteemed client,one of his guests pointed at the book and asked my client how he liked the book and not only did he admit to reading the book but also how his love for animals grew after reading it. The book was George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. (I haven’t read the book either but I do know its an allegorical novel about the Russian revolution). The only reason I selected it was because the glossy red laminated finish of the cover added color to the otherwise dull grey space. Such are the tragic times we live in.
Nevertheless we were brought up in days where we played in our courtyards and playgrounds and not on electronic tablets and smartphones, so the only thing we could do when indoors was read. And hence the habit of visiting the Sunday bazaar for books. I have never been an avid reader but once in a while I get lucky and find something of my interest. I’m pretty sure I was the least read of all the people who have ever visited those Sunday bazaars.
That winter Sunday morning as usual I found myself at the bazaar looking for books strolling up and down the street casually, with little or no intention of buying anything. I walked all the way to the last pile of books on the street, and sat on the pavement pulled out my pack and discovered I wasn’t carrying my lighter, with the stick held in my lips I looked around to see if there was anyone around whom I could ask for a light. There was this old man squatted besides his pile of books not very far from where I found my seat. I called out to him in my usual colloquial style
” Chicha! do you have a matchbox?”
He put his hand in his sweater and pulled out a matchbox from his shirts pocket and threw it right at me. I lit my cigarette and took a few relaxed drags, got up dusted myself and walked up to him and returned his matchbox with a smile. Now, I found myself obligated to at least look through his pile. And something caught my eye, it was a purple colored cover with a black border. The very look of it suggested it was a romantic thriller, that’s anything but my genre. I put it back in the pile and asked him how much for that one. In a very dejected tone he replied,
” Sahab! Take that,I’ll give it for fifty bucks. I haven’t sold anything in the past two hours I’ve been here.”
The melancholy on his face was a pitiful sight. I browsed through his inventory again and found nothing interesting except a coffee table book about Indian water painting and it’s evolution. I asked him how much it was he said he’d take a hundred and fifty for that. I readily agreed gave him two hundred rupee notes and was about to leave but he said he didn’t have change. I don’t know why I did that but I asked him to throw that book with the purple colored cover. Took both the books home and left them at the study table. Neither of which I planned to read.
A week later I was home alone and finally got time to spend at the study table. I don’t spend much time on my study table at home these days and both the books lay there just like I’d left them. That book which I’d gotten just for the sake of non availability of change, kept drawing my attention as though it was calling me time and again, even as I was browsing the book on water paintings. The title of the book “If tomorrow comes” didn’t sound familiar.
I finally picked up that book dusted it, and then it struck to me, when I read the authors name on the front. He was her favorite author and I’d seen that book on her bookshelf. It’s been ten years. I took a deep breath and opened the first page. As though a lighting bolt had struck me, I froze. Her name with mine intertwined in a very beautiful urdu calligraphic font is what I found. I knew it was her book. She used to scribble our initials on all her books to which i took serious offense.
” what if someone sees?” I used to ask her.
” why do you think I write it in urdu.” She used to reply.
I remember telling her Akbar Allahbadis couplet on this once
” hamare pyar ki chitthi tumhare baap ne kholi, Hamara sarr na bach paata agar urdu use aati”
(Our letters of love were apprehended by your father, and by god he wouldn’t have let us live if he knew how to read urdu.)
She used to laugh at it and say ” don’t you dare drag my daddy into this”.
She was young and playful, and I couldn’t bring myself to understand her joyous and overzealous version of life. She was so full of life and I was at that point of time in life surrounded by sorrows that didn’t concern me. I walked along by her side but we were two parallel tracks of a train always by each other’s side but never together.
I still remember that night when I sneaked into her room late that night on the terrace, her father had given her a room so that she could study undisturbed. I plucked a rose from her neighbors terrace as I jumped from one terrace to the other till I got to hers. I held her from behind and wrapped my arms around her waist while she was trying to go through her notes. I kissed her neck and pulled out the rose from my rear pocket and put it on her bossom. She put her notes aside and we sat on her bed mersmerised in each others eyes, as though we found a world of our own in each other. When I took my leave for that night she made me put that rose in her book which she pulled from the bookshelf saying,
” your love is here to stay in my heart, the way this rose will stay in this book”
And today ironically it has found its way back to me and like she had said, the rose was still there withered, pressed, dark with no aroma . Just like her love for me, nomore at its previous glory and grace. Thin and fragile as though it was a part of the book itself now. I may still exist in her heart somewhere and she probably doesn’t even realize it. The rose in the book if tomorrow comes. Tomorrow did come but you did not.
The book found its way to me after all these years but she couldn’t. There is an undeniable connect with this souvenir of hers. It talks to me like no other book to its reader before.Each page that I flip as if the book was sobbing n sniffing longing for an incomplete story to see an end. The corner of the pages which I brushed against my thumb like I was running my fingers through her hair. When I put my hand on a page it felt like caressing those soft cheeks of hers. And when tired i try to get some rest on the desk, I put my head on her book, makes me feel like I’m resting my head on her lap. Lying with it on my chest just like she would rest her head on my chest. I have managed to still keep the rose where it was lest she blame me for not keeping the trust of guardianship. I hope she comes over someday and I return what belongs to her not just this book but the memories she forgot to take away with her and also the rose in the book.