Precious pages that need new life
A Sunday ago, I spent a pleasurable afternoon, and much of the evening too, browsing through pre-owned books scattered carefully across one corner of the Campal Grounds. Those in the know would remember that Bookworm, a fascinating children’s library at Fontainhas-Mala (earlier based in Taleigao) has its jumble sale at this time of the year.
Bookworm collects a lot of items from the homes of those who have outgrown them. By the time I reached, there were still two guitars for sale, electronic items, shoes, clothes and much more in the jumble sale. Enthusiastic volunteers or staff did their best to offer a deal while raising funds for a good cause. But what attracted one the most was the precious pages which were available at very reasonable rates.
“I got a boxful of books for the children at `500,” a professor from Mapusa with young children confided. How, I wanted to know. “Just bargain,” was the short reply.
But one didn’t even need to. It was getting late in the afternoon, and the organisers of the jumble sale were showing signs of being keen to finish their stock. They had spent weeks if not months requesting those with surplus items to donate it to them. People had been generous, but it is also hardwork, and a logistical nightmare as well. Getting all the items in one place, sorting them out, pricing the same suitably, having enough volunteers or staff to help with the sales.
In the 1970s, the hippies in Goa taught Anjuna and neighbouring areas of Bardez what a flea market was. As a young journalist growing up in the 1980s, I can still recall scouring the area to buy second- or third-hand Sony cassette recorders. Those were the times when foreign, especially electronic, items were extremely hard to come by in India. Today, sadly, the flea market has become commercialised, while the Saturday night markets too seem to have lost the charm they once had.
In the late-1980s, my first SLR (single-lens reflex) camera came by way of a Zenit, a rough but sturdy Soviet-made camera bought from Russian tourists near the Junta House in Panaji for a princely `700. The visiting tourists couldn’t express themselves in English and had to write down the price on the back of an envelope. The camera served for many years, and while its optics were not great, it was good enough and more for a beginner. These were tools which could make a difference in one’s work.
In Berlin, as young Third World students on scholarship, the first thing that the organisers of the programme did was to get us to visit the Red Cross used-items’ shop in the city and buy clothes by the kilo. The ‘second-hand’ clothes were actually in very good shape, and extremely affordable too. We could get our jackets and woollens at a price which was next to nothing.
There were flea markets in other parts of that city too, including one housed in old railway boogies, if I recall right. Suddenly, it strikes you that old is not necessarily junk, reuse is more than a mantra, and someone else’s surplus can indeed be very useful to you if it fits your need.
Our world has been moving from shortage to surplus, and we often end up with more than we need. What does one do with this?
The Bookworm idea of an annual fund-raising jumble-sale is a win-win-win situation. It helps the owners of surplus items to dispose of the same, while feeling the gratification that they have helped a good cause. It helps Bookworm fund, a very good initiative. (If you haven’t yet seen their children’s library, then you must… and I know that many parents even of young children are not aware of this lovely option). Lastly, it helps readers like us get access to excellent reading material.
By the time I was choosing books around 3 p.m., the sun had moved high overhead, and was moving westwards fast. The price of the books was not very clear, but the discounts were getting to be even more generous. I was told: “If you take four more books, you can have all (seven books) for `250.”
When I counted, I found quite a number of interesting tomes in my hands. Three of these would go into my Goa books collection (Umesh Kakeri’s ‘Shree Mangesh’, Rosalyn D’Mello’s ‘A Handbook For My Lover’, and ‘Goemcho Festakar’).
There were some books which I might have never thought of reading had the price not been so right — an introduction to Sartre (in graphic novel format), a book on teaching writing in school, one on the history of the St Mary’s Church in Fort St George, Madras, and the last a book on Ahmedabad by the writer and ex-journo Amrita Shah whom I met in Goa recently. This is no reflection on the books themselves, just that one has only that much time in life, one has to prioritise interests in reading, and the budget for books has its own limits too.
Beyond this, one managed to pick up nearly three boxes full of children’s books for which, I knew, there would be many, many eager readers. But more on that later on.
In its attempt at boosting its revenues, Bookworm has given us all an idea. Books deserve recycling. Goa needs its own second-hand book market. Decision-makers could do us all a big favour if this small state could think big on giving old books a new lease of life.
While speaking informally to the friendly curator of the Central Library at Panaji, Carlos Fernandes, he thought this could be worked out. Like Delhi has its Daryaganj (and second-hand book sales on Sunday mornings), Bangalore its second-hand book shops, and so many other centres, Goa too could think of options. Maybe one day in the month could be set aside for those having surplus books to sell or exchange these at a place like the Central Library. Or, the civic authorities could offer space along the scenic Mandovi riverside promenade. The results could be very worthy.
In a state which spends quite a bit of resources to build large libraries and fund some small part of the costs of locally-produced books, it’s important for going the extra mile and making sure that people actually get the books they want. Making pre-owned books available at reasonable prices could also be another major step in that direction.