Wednesday 17 April 2024

Higginbothams - Where I stumbled upon my childhood

If reading had a huge role to play in my growing up, Higginbothams had a greater role to play in building my reading habit. If I were an artist, I would have sketched a portrait of the man who used to keep the Higginbothams store at the Thrissur Railway Station. He was already an old man when I first met him. He was dark and slightly on the stouter side, with sloping shoulders. Not one strand of hair on his head was black. He had round, curious eyes staring out of an oblong face. He must have been short. Whether he was sitting down on his stool or standing up to cater to his customers, I never saw much of his torso above the counter of the book shop.

The first time when I went to the shop with my grandfather, I was a small kid. I had to rise on the tips of my toes to read through the titles. And then I would look straight into his eyes. (Yes, he was short.) The old man and I used to have a kind of silent communication which hardly needed any verbal expression. He almost always knew which the titles I wanted were. And they were always one too many. But Achhan (as I used to call my grandfather) made me always stop my purchase at one or two. Because we were not taught or allowed to overindulge. And this became a ritual. Every time we came to receive or see off anyone at the station - and that was the norm in those days - I was most eager to do the honours. For I knew I could stop and linger at the bookshop, and return with at least two books.

From Amar Chitra Kathas to Enid Blytons to the classics, romances, suspense thrillers and period fictions to serious nonfictions, Higginbothams silently witnessed my evolution to adulthood. And as I grew up, naturally, my appetite for reading also grew and we couldn't afford to buy enough to satiate my craving anymore, and I slowly migrated to the Townhall Public Library. My visits to the railway station grew fewer, and I lost touch with the shop. However, I had always reserved for the store and the old man a special place in my heart. And then I realized one day that the shop at the station had closed down. That left a kind of void in my mind and a heavy sense of loss. Later on, I found a Higginbothams store at Kochi, which could never hold that special corner in my heart. What's more, it closed down or relocated to I know not where. 

Several days back, I was at the Chennai airport. I was roaming around, looking for a book shop. (Yes, I have lately got back into the habit of hanging around bookshops, and I still do have a membership in one of the best libraries in Kochi.) And to my pleasant surprise, I came upon and happily stumbled into a Higginbothams'. I was swamped by nostalgia and a rush of emotions. I tried to chat up the storekeeper for a few long minutes, all the while an old man's face gradually forming in my mind. I forgot to take a selfie at the store, as I am not a selfie-clicking person, but I wish I had, just this once. And yes, I did buy books. Only two, though.


[Picture Courtesy: Public Domain]

Thursday 11 April 2024

To Paint the Complete Picture

Pick up your thinking brush. Dip it in the skies. Let it soak in the blues. Then sweep it across the mind’s canvas. From end to end. Repeat once, twice or thrice. Or as many times as it takes for the blues to rub off the brush.

If the blues are too intense, dip the spiky bristles in the cloudy whites. Wait until the blues wash away, and then touch up your skies so they light up just a mite.

Now steep your brooding blues in the twilights. Blotch up your canvas with blobs of red, yellow, orange, and blends of all three. Make sure you leave some room for the occasional blues. Draw a few defining strokes so the blobs know their space and don’t spill all over the place.

Splash across the bottom some earthy hues. For all those shades need to bury their roots. Then plant a bed of sprouting greens of the upcoming spring. And there you are! Your canvas is complete.

Some brights and some blues
A picture replete with all hues
Ups and lows, joys and woes.


[Picture: Yarra Valley, Melbourne]