Vantage point

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Raddi Hunting

Standing in a non-descript raddi shop tucked away in a tiny off-shoot of a bylane in the Mumbai sub-urbs. Going through the titles of the dusty yellowed books stacked on a discoloured wooden shelf in a corner even as the remaining space is taken up by the shop's main revenue-earner - old raddi newspapers, neatly tied up in stacks.

All of us grow up reading stories of treasure hunts on islands far away. Searching for some desirable books in shops like these is the closest we can come to that adventure in our urban 21st century 9-to-5 lives. Most of the names staring at you from the shelf are unknown, undesired, and even relative failures. One almost feels sure that 99% of the books are such that whoever bought them, regretted it half-a-sitting later. So the books sit there for a decade and will probably sit there for another decade until they are converted into pulp.

But sifting through all the literary rubbish is worth it when you find that first book that you actually want to buy. For me today, ironically and yet fittingly enough, the book was Alfred Hitchcock and The three Investigators: The Secret of the Terror Castle. It is the first book in The Three Investigators series, which was my favourite series of books growing up, as I have written on this blog before. It was fitting because, the entire set-up of the Investigators in the series has been put together by sifting through junk.

Energised by this success, I start examining the books with renewed enthusiasm. Some of them would have a lot of value for folks I know. There were a few Star wars and Star Trek books. There was also a book by baseball legend Micky mantle, describing 12 seasons with the Yankees. There were some "Wild West" pocket books. The whole treasure-hunt brought back memories of my childhood years, when I spent a long time every day agonising over which book to take home from the musty shelves of the library on Karve Road in Pune.

After what seemed like a long blast from the past, I finally chose 3 more books in addition to the TI book.

Peter Pan by J M Barrie - a book I have never owned
They're Playing Your Song, Charlie Brown by Charles Schultz - a collection of Penuts cartoons, with a message on the front page - "To Chuckie on his 1st birthday(that is, with me!), all my love, march 25, 1978" handwritten no doubt by the person who bought it first.
Private's Progress by Alan Hackney - a classic about Army life, first published 1954

The four books cost me just 40 rupees. Notice how you never have to pay a lot for the some of the most valuable things in life.