Saturday, January 13, 2007


Not been posting for so long because life has this way of swallowing you in big, greedy mouthfuls. Small bits and entrails of your body dangle out of its mouth, desperately finishing chores and tying up strings, till it spits you out in disgust. Who wants to eat food that won’t stop wriggling? What a ghastly image, I’m telling myself, but somehow it’s been that sort of a time!

But there is always a lot to be grateful for – food, clothing, a lovely roof over our heads, and books, of course. Fort Book Distributors came to Chembur again this year, like a cool breeze that brings clouds heavy with rain. Not too many finds this year, and prices were high-ish. But my evenings had meaning again. I could browse and lose myself again…

Two gems came out of it, and of those, only ONE is exciting enough to make me want to post after soooo long! Gem no. 1 is a book called Ben and Me. Amit saw it and put it back, thinking who’s going to pay that much for a dust-jacket-less 114-page book which sounds obscure? Later that night he told me about it and I squealed, sure I’d seen or heard of it somewhere. Next morning, we rushed back and bought it. The owner nodded sagely at fellow-gujju Amit and said, “Tamari choice saras chhe, bhai...

Ben and Me is a small novel on the life on Amos, Benjamin Franklin’s fictitious mouse, and his relationship with the great Ben. Written by Robert Lawson in the voice of Amos, the book gives the mouse full credit for all of Ben’s amazing discoveries and innovations. From the Franklin Stove to electricity to printing to writing the first stirring words of the Declaration of Independence (inspired by something written by another mouse named Red, actually) – it was the mice who came up with everything first, and not the great man.

Amos and Ben get into a bargain. On the morning after Amos has given Ben the idea for what came to be called the Franklin Stove, Amos sees Ben preparing an account of his ‘invention’. When Amos jogs Ben's memory a bit, Ben duly acknowledges his (Amos’s) contribution. Ben, as Amos observes, ‘was always fair, just overenthusiastic about himself’. As Amos tells Ben, ‘…Fame and honors are nothing to me – cheese is.’ He has 25 hungry siblings in a cold vestry to consider, and so in exchange of ‘1 two-ounce piece best quality cheese, 1 one-inch slice fresh rye bread and 88 grains of unhulled wheat, ’ to be delivered twice a week, Amos would give Ben ‘advice, aid, assistance and succor, at all times and under all conditions…’

It’s a really sweet book, but more than anything else, it has the most wonderful illustrations. Though this edition was printed in March 1956, the book was first published in October 1939. Illustrated by the author, the book has stunning black and white drawings. The lines are strong and compelling, and are very funny in a gentle sort of way. Lawson’s draughtsmanship is a sheer joy to behold. Here are a few pics.

We also went to a secret store that we stumbled upon some time ago, and found these treasures:

A French Asterix – Les Domaines de Dieux (Mansions of the Gods). I didn’t get many of the jokes and it took me a week to read, but I still love it and want more! The bottomless hunger of the greedy, is what I have!

Another rare book – a 1973 reprint of the 1951 classic version of R. L. Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. What makes it a classic? The delightful illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen.

And, also coming in as a surprise this weekend, was a new Scholastic book, The Moustache Maharishi and other Unlikely Stories. Amit's designed and illustrated the cover for this one!


neomatrix said...

lucky you ! which is the secret shop.. tell tell

mandar talvekar said...

Hey, awesome books you manage to find. Much envy happens.
And it is good to have you blogging again. Can we expect you to ladle out posts more regularly?

Sadhana said...

' has this way of swallowing you in big, greedy mouthfuls...' Very well expressed. Makes one shudder; it is so true. Great to find a new informative post. Thanks.

Vanaja said...

Ben and me does sound like an absolutely delightful book. Like the way u write - so passionately!