Few years ago a random post on an online book club grabbed my eye and my interest. One that persistently drew my thoughts back to the subject of that post, even weeks later.
The post had been about a shop that stocked old and rare books. An antiquarian bookseller. I loved the sound of that.
Being a self-proclaimed connoisseur of books, not just for the words within, but also the look, texture and smell, I could not resist digging in, to find more information about this book store.
Online searches revealed something riveting. The shop boasted of distinguished clientele from across the world. Scholars, academicians, book collectors, authors, historians and libraries from all over, were some of its customers. My interest spiked as I read that the renowned historian and writer, William Dalrymple had visited this book shop. A shop he had apparently stumbled upon by chance. This was around the time he was looking for research material, which he eventually sourced from this shop for his critically acclaimed bestseller “White Mughals.” I was intrigued and excited to say the least and grew determined to pay a visit to this place. I was thrilled to find out the shop was located in my hometown. The desire to visit the book store grew. During the next visit to Hyderabad, on the very second day, I set out to find the place.
Google map showed the location as somewhere near Charminar, which happens to be a familiar landmark since childhood. Little did I realize it will turn into a mini adventure of sorts to locate the elusive book shop.
Google map displayed a message, indicating I had reached the destination while all I could see were odd shops all around me, nothing stocking anything close to books as I stood perplexed at the crossroads, in the vicinity of the majestic Charminar.
I went in search of an elusive book store,
Intrigued by its surrounding lore,
Located in a faraway place yet near,
Internet claimed it was not a bookshop mere,
Google welcomed me to a place I could not find,
Was this place real or just in my mind?
I found myself going in circles as I explored the area carefully. The object of my search was nowhere in sight. A sense of the surreal gripped me. I could not help but feel that the world moved at a different pace here. The quaint looking shops selling curios, perfumes and other bric-a-bracs, right down to the people, their gaits, clothes…all hinted at a place that had soaked up ages of history.
I crossed a narrow street lined with rusty cages filled with birds of all sorts. Mostly pigeons, ginny fowl and crows. A strange and curious assortment of birds. All of which cackled, clucked and cawed in unison at the sight of me. Whether they were helping me find my way with their birdie say, that was incomprehensible to me or seeking my help I could not tell. So I just went about my way shrugging off my bewilderment and the mild impulse to linger there a little longer.
I enquired about the book shop, with some passers-by and shop-owners, but just received blank looks and a shake of head…indicating cluelessness about my query, I suppose.
I wondered if I was caught in a time warp. The feeling grew in intensity as I relentlessly continued my search. I believed I was close to finding it and not ready to give-up and call it a day. I began to systematically cover each and every narrow lane, my eyes keenly scanning all the shops, each one unremarkable yet imbibing a unique charm.
Then just like that my gaze landed on the very place I was looking for, while I was halfway down an old winding alley.
Voila! There it was! The almost nondescript and inconspicuous shop revealed itself to my eager eyes. It humbly sported a fading signage displaying the name of the store.
The shop just occupied a narrow stretch of area that touched the parallel running lane on the other end, with entrances to the shop from both the lanes.
As I stepped in, the rich and musty smell of old books stormed my senses. I found myself flanked closely by shelves on both sides. So narrow was the walkway, that you can only walk in a single file, as it can allow only one person to snugly pass through at a time.
The shelves were stacked with various books from the floor all the way up to the ceiling, giving the place a charmingly quirky feel, like an enchanted place that had materialized right out of a fantasy story book. Or rather like I had stepped into one. I almost expected Gandalf or Professor Dumbledore to step out in front of me any time. A thin veil of translucent dust covered all the books, adding to a sense of ancient magic hovering in the air.
Soon a wizened old man materialized from a little room on the side, that was almost concealed by the overflowing shelves. With a kind and polite smile he invited me to explore the other room. It was crammed with more books on all sides, arranged all the way up to the ceiling which seemed to be the norm here.
The structure of the shelves were obscured by books of every size. Again covered in the same ancient layer of dust. I could tell the books have been tenderly cared for as I slowly browsed. I relished the sight of the staggering collection of books in mostly English, Urdu, Arabic and Persian literature, spanning more than a century. Books on the Deccan history, Asaf Jahi dynasty period and more. I noted many of the books were from the pre-independence era.
After a while, the elderly shopkeeper guided me to another extension of the shop across the street and I treated myself to yet another impressive display of more rare and old books. Of course I was not fooled by the dust and realized I needed deep pockets to be able to afford many of the books here. Finally after browsing for countless moments found something that fit my humble budget, to my extreme delight. Or was it that the books found me?! I walked out of the treasure trove of a book store clutching my precious finds with a mounting sense of excitement.
A 19th century edition of Pippa Passes – a verse drama by Robert Browning.
A 20th century edition – Collection of William Wordsworth’s poems.
Both the books encased in leather bindings with beautiful etchings and rich texture. Filled with the wonderful old book smell, apart from words within to lose oneself in!