Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Ramesh found...

For years now, Ramesh has had my loyal custom. Back in the '80s, when I first spotted him outside Ambedkar Udyan, I was a humongously fat teenager, and he was a really thin young man in his 20s. He had strangely 'new' looking books. Unlike most street book sellers, he wasn't selling used books. His were all new, all titles that would - for sure - excite my young reluctant reader of a brother. I didn't know then that what he was doing then was selling the West's inventoried books - or books that are 'remaindered' in the warehouses, and are later auctioned off to distributors. Everyone in Mumbai has a favourite book guy. Ramesh, in Chembur, happens to be mine.

So The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Isaac Asimov's Futuredays (cigarette card representations of what people in fin de siecle France - 1899 - thought life held in store for the world in 2000; each card was wondrously illustrated and juxtaposed with a brief discussion of why it was plausible or not by Asimov. The best part - this me panting with excitement - was how he found the set of cards in a toy shop in Paris); the book of the movie Young Sherlock Holmes; and many more that I've forgotten about - and regrettably, lost.

Cut to 2001, Chakala, in deep dark Andheri East, walking around with Amit. I'm a lot less humungous, and we are crawling the lanes of our new-found suburb, trying to find something other than shops full of Chinese-made figurines to stare at. I see a book seller with books like The Animal of Farthing Wood and a series that has English being taught using Asterix comics. Delighted I look up at the seller, and whatdjaknow. It's Ramesh, plumper, older. We both grin and laugh and get down to the business of books.

2004, Chembur, and there's Ramesh again suddenly at his usual spot near Ambedkar Udyan. Friendship reaffirmed, we buy tons of books from him, and finally, give him lots of our pulp crime novels. We find copies of Hoot with him, and colouring books, and more novels, and more vintage children's books. Last week was a bonanza though. Look at all that he had for us!

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, the story of a Russian migrant whose mother and extended family make a quilt using old clothes belonging to relatives.
The quilt sees many generations of her family thru many rites of passage. Incidentally, this is a signed copy! Colour is used discretely - only to make the quilt sparkle. The b&w people are beautifully detailed.


Stone Soup by Jonathan Muth, an interpretation of the European folk trickster story. Muth sets it in China, and gives us some unforgettably minimal images.
Three monks reach a village. It seems sullen somehow. We are told that this is a village that often faces famine. The villagers are weary and wary. The adults keep to themselves. We meet the Scholar, the Seamstress, the Doctor, the Carpenter.
The tricksters attract a curious little girl in bright yellow, who follows them and is a via media to reach the villagers. She is a quiet and insidious counterpoint to the adults. Untouched by the knowledge of famine -and deprivation, she helps the strangers fetch more and more to throw into the pot.
And finally, that night, a grand celebration, where the soup is eaten.

Two of the books were on the American Civil Rights movement. The first is How four friends stood up by sitting down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
Four American college students went to the counter of Woolworths on February 1, 1960, and ordered coffee and a doughnut. They were never served. Integration and how it must have felt when it was still a churning, disturbing process make up the book's narrative. It's stirring because it resonates with so many other struggles - with Gandhi, Ambedkar, and how much the Dalit movement in our society still has to achieve in terms of equality of perception.


Henry's freedom Box by Ellen Levine is a story with positively luminous pictures. you can read more about the real Henry Brown here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Box_Brown. Strangely, though I didn't particularly want n to read the book, she curled up with it one afternoon. After reading it, her eyes twinkled when she described the underground train and how it wasn't really an underground train, just a train full of conductors and people who helped slaves escape. The illustrations are just incredible - rich, realistic, and lit with a strong, sad inner light.

The incredible book eating boy! by Oliver Jeffers about a boy who develops an apetite for books. He starts eating them accidentally - a pooping cat might have distracted him. Soon he becomes the smartest kid in sight with all those words inside him, and then, one day, he simply falls ill from eating too many books. He has to 'clean' himself up and takes to reading books, which, as the author says, is SO good. But sometimes, he falls off the wagon, so to say, and our lovely copy has bite taken off on the back cover to show you what happens when he regresses!


Coming soon - if our camera works - a picture of Ramesh :)

16 comments:

Deepa Krishnan said...

Awesomeness. BUT it is missing photu of said Ramesh :(

Priya said...

Oh Ani this is such a beautiful post - what a lovely way to describe the joy of reading, through Ramesh and then the boy eating the books! Simply delightful.

I thought I'd seen quite a few children's books living in the US but I've probably not even scratched the surface - I hadn't heard of any of these.

Anita & Amit Vachharajani said...

deepae, planning to rectify today. amit's camera on blink. and peope dont shoot so well on iphone. but will try. actually also wanted to interview him... let's see. photo toh mangtaich hai.
priya, thank you, thank you!

Banno said...

Lovely post, Anita. How strange that Ramesh should move localities with you.

Anita & Amit Vachharajani said...

i don't think he was moving as much as trying different localities to suss out which one works the best for him... am glad he's struck roots - like me!

Playing by the book said...

I wish I could do some book buying from Ramesh!

sathish said...

Ah. Lovely. That is a great feast. Brian Pinkney, Oliver Jeffers, Jon Muth - wow. that is a wonderful collection from some wonderful authors and illustrators.

Ali said...

Wow! So grateful that Zoe (Playing By The Book) tweeted a link to your blog. I can't wait to see a photo of Ramesh!

Banno said...

Yes, probably he felt that living around your locality was the best thing for his business. :)

Anita & Amit Vachharajani said...

zoe, i'll bet ramesh wishes that too! ;) banno, you're probably right. sigh. he must have me all figured out! sathish, indeed it's a feast... ali, so glad you came here, and zoe, thanks a ton for tweeting about the post!

Anita & Amit Vachharajani said...

ali, deepa, when the photo is up, i'll drop you a line!

Sat-Chit-Ananda said...

Lovely article... Was curious if you saw this article of some more amazing books..

http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/11/from-brothers-grimm-to-stuck-the-11-best-picture-books-of-2011/248825/

Anita & Amit Vachharajani said...

lovely, sat-chit-ananda, thank you!

shubhangi said...

Hi lovely article ... could you please please give me the location where Ramesh sits in Chembur. I have been scouting around for children books ..Shubhangi

shubhangi said...

Hi lovely article ... could you please please give me the location where Ramesh sits in Chembur. I have been scouting around for children books ..Shubhangi

Anita & Amit Vachharajani said...

hi shubhangi, he is next to the flower guy, near the bhel and vada pav guys around the ambedkar udyan. not on the station side but on the side that overlooks diamond garden.