I picked up The Day of the Jackal from one of the roadside second hand book sellers in Bangalore. The year was 1999 or 2000. M.G.Road, if I am not mistaken. One of those places where they spread the books on the footpath and as we walk past, we experience an irresistible urge to pick up everything lying face up. I stopped and looked at them – I knew these weren’t original, most likely photostat copies, and yet I knew for a certainty that I will buy something that day. At least one. And I did. It was my first second-hand book.
Every time I think of or talk about or overhear someone discussing The Day of the Jackal, the movie or the book, that’s what I remember. My first job in Trivandrum. My interview in Bangalore. Walking by M.G.Road with my father. Staying with friends who were either working or looking for a job. A book with a green cover. I am not sure if I still have that book. If I do, it would have yellowed, thumbed pages with the print no longer clear. In the first page, I would have scribbled my name and the date I bought it, followed by “M. G. Road.” I didn’t want to forget.
That’s why I always note down the date and where I bought it, in every book I buy. I may remember some of it, but I may forget most. And I want to remember where I was, what I was going through, who I met, and why I chose this book.
The book seller waited patiently. He did not ask if I wanted this book or that. He could tell by the way my eyes were scanning the titles. When I found what I was looking for, he would know. Another person, who had stopped his hasty walk and was looking cursorily at the books, would not buy anything that day. I was the one likely to leave with a lighter purse. My eyes fell on Frederick Forsyth. Ever since my father told me about this anonymous shooter out to kill the French President Charles de Gaulle, I had been intrigued.
I looked up at the seller and pointed to the book. “How much?”
He quoted an amount I cannot recall now. But I remember thinking, photostat copies. Not worth the price. He waited for me to negotiate. “Okay,” I said.
I don’t regret spending that money at all. (It is possible that my Dad paid for it, but you get what I mean.)
Every book is a memory. A slice from our life. A few moments or days or weeks of time – from the instant we set our eyes on it, or hear about it, to the moment when we let it slip back to our past.
I read it in a crowded train.
I saw it on her table.
I bought it from M. G. Road.
I gave it to my so-called friend and she never returned it.
I borrowed it from a library I don’t visit any more.
It was a gift.