Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Book-Binder

(Kindly note--this is the longest blog I have ever written. I know it is inappropriate to post essays on my blog, and I know it might irritate the casual reader to go through the entire thing...if you have time, pl go through, if you don't skip to the end, coz it carries a message. This one's been rotting in my account for quite some time, and so I thought I should put it to good use and blog it)

Come every June or July, my heart wells in the sweet expectation of the monsoons. But June is not only about monsoons, it’s that special time of the year when I ritualistically, tenderly give up my newly acquired tinkle comics for a couple of weeks as they’ll be visiting the book binder, to have them neatly trimmed off, pressed and binded, to be preserved eternally, in colourful red and green covers for me to savor for the days to come.

This book-binder interests me, because he is like none other. He is a traditional one, I can see, he’s been in the line for many years. I know my books well, and I know this dear man well also, and his work is always neat, unselfishly completed with faithfulness and loyalty. One can’t help but admire the quality of his work…anything entrusted to him is carried out to the best of his ability, never once, it seems, has he lost interest in his work. Yet, the little old man down Gandhi Bazaar Road remains unrecognized: he reposes in a silent cocoon of his, not wishing to really come out and scream that he deserves a pat on his back for working so hard for all these years... but he has faith in himself, and for him, that is enough--it gives him strength to continue the mundane work of his.

His workplace is nothing too special—it is old, derelict and neglected corner of a building, and is supremely unattractive and drab. It can easily slip off one's eyes: many people who live here are unaware of it’s existence. But I just happened to chance on it, when I needed to get my books bound. My eyes desperately sought a binder, and they rested with delight on the small grey corner of the building which announced Elegant Printing Works.

Initially, I was reluctant, I suppressed my urge to rush my books to his place—I had to be careful. It was a matter of selecting a talented binder. I hated the insensitive kinds who were not devoted to their work. I was already dissatisfied with my previous binder who had done a bad job with my books and I had decided to be even more selective when it came to choosing the right book-binder. Well, the first look at this man told me he was the right one. I took my books to him one day as he sat working, with my beloved comic books in a heavy plastic cover. I observed him till I was allowed to speak. He was binding some books, and beside him rested a think wad of gum, which he was plastering onto the book covers. Over in one corner of the room rested a rusty binding machine, and there was a sort-of a makeshift attic above his weary head which was stashed with all kinds of bound, yellowing books and I wondered if they were still readable. His room was small, and the man himself was small, wearing thick spectacles, and a white bunion. We gave our comics to him, repeatedly murmuring that he ought to be careful, because these comics were important to me. He asked us to return in three days when the books would be ready and I waited anxiously to see my books return home.

I hurried to the binder’s ( the 8th of July, it was, according to my Journal entry) back seated on my mother’s two-wheeler, and my books were bound and ready at the shop, as promised. The man was waiting. The payment he requested was minimal (it looks like he was unaware of how much the other binders were demanding, evidently, it was more than he was.) I remember it was a beautiful day, there is a temple neighboring his humble shop, and there were people visiting the temple. The famous giant trees of my neighborhood which I am so proud of did not sway, they were too burly for the winds, but the leaves rustled, and small rains started off, and I knew they would get stronger.

I could not help but feel true pity towards this man, a devoted, hard-working man, an old timer working away on his rusting book-binding machine. Judging by the state of his workplace, he did not earn much. It looked like we were his only customers in days. There was this overwhelming pity for this man. Previously, I had not bothered about him: just like many others, he had passed unnoticed like a commoner under my eye. That day, I made a promise. From that moment, I decided that every year, it would be to this man I would bring my Tinkle comics for binding, and every year, he would, without doubt return my bound books…and everytime I read them, I would feel grateful to the sturdy hands which had ensured me that pleasure.

That is my problem—I care too much, and I am proud of it. I cannot be insensitive, however small a problem is. Maybe, it was my impulse to feed this man, my understanding that he deserves more than he has earned that makes me take my Tinkle books to him every year. I also know, I am not the ultimate one, and yes, I only take my books to him once a year, and you might argue that the money he gets out of this will not suffice…he cannot live on it. True, but it always helps to be a little kinder…to make a small change, to take a little step and extend a caring hand. Some helping silently is better than remaining indifferent, is it not?

For the past three years, I have unfailingly taken my books to him, and he has worked with great perseverance, the only changes I have seen in his workplace it an addition of 2 chairs—A wicker one with an old pillow and a simple steel folding chair. I suspect he gets back-pain often, and when I visit him, I usually sit on the cold steel chair, leaving the other one empty.

This year, once again, the time arrived to count my books, number them and visit the book-binder. I packed them up neatly in a plastic bag as usual, but I was unable to go along with my mother, as it was test-time, and requested her to drop it off at the Binder’s. She did so, and she returned and told me, that this was possibly the last time I would have my books bound here, because the old man was closing his shop.

It is sad, somehow, his defeat dampened my spirit. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the evidence that my simple job of sustaining him had failed…I asked her why. She told me the poor man was burdened under constant pressure from the owner who had permitted him to use that useless corner of the building for his purposes.
“The owner has asked him to vacate the place” she said, “And the man has agreed to close down. They are not doing good business.”

Finally, I understood why. Recently, a Spencer’s supermarket had erupted next to his workplace—with flashy orange displays to attract customers. I don’t like such changes—a supermarket in front of a temple and next to a book-binder looks misplaced, but that's the sad thing about Bangalore, everything is growing haphazardly…and sometimes, I feel angered, as if I want to put an end to the constant changes the city is facing, showing it’s ugly face in every corner of the city....I would want it to stop, I would like my city to return to it’s original splendor, although I realize it is near to impossible.

I suspect, the supermarket wants to widen, engulfing the poor binder’s shop, and the old man has given in….I know he will stop working now. I only wonder how his future will be… ‘ritual’ is broken, and I am sure, I shall not find a better book-binder anywhere in the city…and I shall blame this all to the rapid urbanization, which had unpleasantly affected me, and incensed me beyond belief.

But whatever’s done is done. The truth remains that I shall miss this old man and his shop, the wicker chair, the old, dusty attic…everything. He shall remain unforgotten, because his handiwork rests in my hands….I will be missing you, old man.


Maddy said...

you know lakshmi, you write so well, keep going on and on. seeing RKN's face, my all time fav on your page takes me back to so many memories...

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Thank you, sir. You know, we do share something in common. RK narayan is my all time favorite too...I have read him so much that he has influenced me. But, I think a lot of hardwork is required on my part to reach up to his level...afterall, I am still an ametuer, but one with lots of hopes!There are wonerful writers out there, all of them better than me, but your praise put me on cloud nine. By the way, I loved your blog on finding things in your too has a face of RKN hidden in it.

parijata said...

Hi Lakshmi,
Yes, I know MSVR. He never taught us, but I know him.
And no, I don't know your Father. I was in NCB much later (fifteen years, I guess). I have heard PLS's name, but never had any of his classes. Our teachers were - TN for Zoology, BS for Botany. For Maths we had SBR, HGA, PS and Padmaja. Great teachers, all of them.

I read your blog often; you write very well.

BTW, how did you come to know that I studied in National College? I do not remember mentioning it...

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

I remember going trough one of the posts where you had mentioned it yourself, your name was special, and it stuck in my head. Well, I read you up in the 'blog of the day' and thought I should ask you.