I still smell the fresh smell of my first book
Bought from the peripatetic bookseller
Trudging along the dusty village roads
The crafty fox foxing all children
From it’s crisp pages for time immemorial.
Since when he has been vending such tasty fare
Nor does anybody care
What generation of the seller sells
Or what generation of the buyer buys.
The brown wrapper
With the stamp of your trademark
Has held within its folds
Food for hungry minds both young and old
Turning over the fresh cover
Lower down its inside
Proudly I displayed your distinctive mark
To be surprised to see
The same mark on my friend’s old copy
Bought perhaps by his grandfather
Or from the pavement dealer.
Your modest façade in emerald green
The Coffee-house and my Alma Mater
Are all landmarks on that busy road
But they are no less in my graying life
And the memories linger ---
When I first entered your shop
With uncertain steps
How I first met my fire-eating friend
Afire with the zeal of a crusader
Far removed from the jungles of Bolivia
And the ringing rice-fields of Vietnam
Telling me with great agitation
The techniques of guerrilla warfare
Or that poor friend from Diamond Harbor
Crestfallen by your costly volume
Seeking out a second-hand copy
From a pile on the opposite pavement
And my first love
With all its adolescent intensity
Sighs in vain
In search of that frail fairy
Lost long ago
In the fairyland of my fading memory.
Even a passing glance at your façade
Rekindles in me that first fire
In my mellow years
I longingly look for my love
Waiting by your gate
But I don’t find even a beggar
What I see is your folded shutter
With your name and emblem
Evergreen as ever.
Written in 1986 for the souvenir published to celebrate the centenary of Calcutta’s oldest bookshop, DASGUPTA & CO. The title of the poem is taken from what is printed on its wrapper – ‘Booksellers since 1886’.
Padmaja Iyengar, Thanks for reading and commenting on the poem. Yes, you are right. The booksellers not only do business for profits but also provide an invaluable service to the book lovers.
I just love this tribute to the oldest booksellers (since 1986) of Kolkata..How very thoughtful! A book seller acts as the greatest bridge between the authors, books and the book lovers...Thanks Kumud Biswasji for conceiving of this poem. Salutes to you and respects for articulating the gratitude of many a book lover like me.