For Things That Have No Soul
There is a peculiar level of comfort level that younger siblings acquire when it comes to hand-me-downs. Frocks and socks, shoes and cycles, books and blocks all tumble into our laps in used states, and after some time, disgruntlement turns into acceptance. For some, this may further turn into appreciation after the lapse of a sufficient number of years. After all, one does sometimes hear vague talk that links old to gold.
As for me, I have spent countless hours of my life browsing through my father’s collection of Asterix comics and the fattest anthologies for children that once belonged to my cousins. This affinity towards second hand books strengthened when I discovered the beautiful library at school. While my memories of school are those of laughter and angst, I look back on that beautiful library with a rose-tinted gaze where Malory Towers gave way to Nancy Drew which gave way to ‘Historical MBs’ and ‘Medical MBs’ (Mills & Boon novels) before graduating to full-fledged ‘Romantic MBs’. Once we were done with our blushing and yearning, Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steel came into the picture. When nothing else remained, we had Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks. The sighs and smiles and gasps and tears of so many girls were trapped in the soft yellow pages of these books. Of course, the best part about an old book is the littles notes you come across from its multiple owners and readers - a signature, a date, a cryptic line only to be understood by the sender and the receiver. What wonderful secrets were shared, I’ll never know. That doesn’t stop me from wondering though.
Recently, on my third visit to London, I realised I had no more sightseeing to do. My search for lesser-known coops and corners had me wandering into Skoob Books, a second hand bookstore in Brunswick Square. An innocuous entrance led me down to a warm and inviting basement where wooden bookshelves and a grand old piano were squeezed between concrete walls and heating pipes.
Rare books, everyday books, text books, tattered books, shiny books, books with coffee stains, books with missing pages, books with little love notes, books with ticks and crosses all huddled together in this underground haven.
Where the bookshelves were too full, there were stacks of books piled neatly on the floor! I started off at the Film & Television section, worked my way around Plays and Classics, skimmed past Art and Architecture, admired the dedicated orange Penguin section, stopped for a while at Psychology and spent the longer part of my stay at the War and Asia sections.
There is a quiet understanding of silent browsing and whispered “excuse me”s that every book shop junkie is familiar with, and Skoob happens to be one of the best sites for this display of bookworm behaviour. Some stand and slowly take in on the titles on display, some sit on wooden stools to read, others wander about soaking in the delightful ambience of the store.
Clever little posters and clippings can be found taped on to the concrete walls, and though you may easily miss the piano surrounded with a fort of old books at the first glance, it is hard to ignore its charming presence once you do notice it.
I walked out reluctantly after two hours for an appointment I had to keep, though I could happily have explored the store till sundown. The highlight of my purchases was a copy of the first Indian edition of A Princess Remembers by Santha Rama Rau and Maharani Gayatri Devi, a tiny book printed by a Delhi-based publishing house in the '80s.
If you have learnt to love old things like I have, then make your way to this bookstore, or any other second hand bookstore for that matter, and leave a part of your soul on the pages of books that have no one true owner. Trust me, they will take you places.
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“I’m not like an ordinary world. I have my madness, I live in another dimension and I do not have time for things that have no soul.”
- Charles Bukowski
Meghna Talwar is a documentary filmmaker based in Delhi. When not making films, she's sleeping. When she's not sleeping, she writes.