28 Oct 2018 – It’d exactly 15 months that I’ve relocated back to Kolkata after a decade in the Netherlands. “Tho’ much is taken, much abides.” I realize that these Tennysonian lines are true for both my home city and me. Here’s a little series about what abides – first.
Tucked away in Shyama Charan De Street – one of the innumerable bylanes of College Street – it’s easy to miss INDIANA if you are not a regular visitor. But if you happen to be a student or teacher in the College Street ‘para’, or have anything to do with the (still) flourishing book-trade there, you would know Amit da and meshomoshai (his father). In fact, chances are you would be referred to them by other book shops when you can’t find this or that book. I didn’t use ‘this or that’ dismissively – I meant it as a compliment for the eclectic collection that INDIANA has always housed ever since I first chanced upon it in the late 90s.
I had just cleared NET-JRF then and had decided to work on Partition fiction in English, having specialized in Indian-English literature in my Masters. But there weren’t many secondary texts available (or even written) in my research area then. And the bookshops that normally catered to ‘English Literature’ couldn’t help me much. Libraries in Kolkata had the same problem. In such a scenario, Amit da came as a saviour. He routinely got me books that I couldn’t get anywhere else in that pre-Amazon era. And he routinely couriered them to me in the many places that I happened to live, for short or long periods, and for altogether unpredictable reasons, while doing my doctoral and postdoctoral research – Bangalore, Chennai, Amstelveen, Amsterdam, Stuttgart. In fact, those couriers have been the one constant in my accidentally peripatetic life of the last two decades. And the INDIANA label also graces the dust-jacket of half the collection of books in my personal library – my only material possession in life!
I had befriended Amit da first, and his father later. And strangely enough, in my years away from Kolkata, another association developed. With my parents, this time. When they were trying to publish my mother’s collection of short-shorts in Bangla (MUKH MICHHIL, ‘A procession of faces’). For various reasons, things didn’t work out with the publishers that Amit da had recommended to them … & he ended up publishing it himself – though they don’t publish Bangla.
This father-son duo is a rare breed – never allowing business realities to tarnish their love of good books & their determination to house the same in their shop. It has been re-vamped recently; but even in its most chaotic avatar, it was my favourite bookshop in the world. It remains so even after my return.
Thank god, it’s still there. The last time that I bought books from INDIANA was yesterday, with Srishti in tow… & so the story continues…!