Monthly Archives: July 2013

GUNGA DIN by Rudyard Kipling

You may talk o’ gin and beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
He was “Din! Din! Din!
You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippery hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.”

The uniform ‘e wore
Was nothin’ much before,
An’ rather less than ‘arf o’ that be’ind,
For a piece o’ twisty rag
An’ a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment ‘e could find.
When the sweatin’ troop-train lay
In a sidin’ through the day,
Where the ‘eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,
We shouted “Harry By!”
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped ‘im ’cause ‘e couldn’t serve us all.
It was “Din! Din! Din!
You ‘eathen, where the mischief ‘ave you been?
You put some juldee in it
Or I’ll marrow you this minute
If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!”

‘E would dot an’ carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An’ ‘e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
‘E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.
With ‘is mussick on ‘is back,
‘E would skip with our attack,
An’ watch us till the bugles made “Retire”,
An’ for all ‘is dirty ‘ide
‘E was white, clear white, inside
When ‘e went to tend the wounded under fire!
It was “Din! Din! Din!”
With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.
When the cartridges ran out,
You could hear the front-files shout,
“Hi! ammunition-mules an’ Gunga Din!”

I shan’t forgit the night
When I dropped be’ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should ‘a’ been.
I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.
‘E lifted up my ‘ead,
An’ he plugged me where I bled,
An’ ‘e guv me ‘arf-a-pint o’ water-green:
It was crawlin’ and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,
I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
It was “Din! Din! Din!
‘Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ‘is spleen;
‘E’s chawin’ up the ground,
An’ ‘e’s kickin’ all around:
For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!”

‘E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.
‘E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ‘e died,
“I ‘ope you liked your drink”, sez Gunga Din.
So I’ll meet ‘im later on
At the place where ‘e is gone —
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen;
‘E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
Yes, Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

THE DUEL OF LUCKNOW

Tarini Khuro was a fictional character created by Satyajit Ray. Literally, it means “Respected Uncle Tarini.” Khuro in old colloquial Bengali means paternal uncle. The full name of Tarini Khuro is Tarini Ranjan Bandopadhyay. Tarini Khuro’s adventure stories have a touch of supernatural forces in them. He is central to about fifteen stories written by Ray. Tarini is an aged bachelor living in Beniatola Lane, College Street, in Kolkata (or what was then Calcutta).His audience consists of five, rather restless teenagers.

The range of the stories are varied — from ghost stories (many of which are not horror stories though) to comedy. Most of the stories portray the quick wit of Tarini in the face of imminent problems/dangers, and Tarini himself has had some close shaves by the stroke of luck. He has an unending stock of stories, full of strange incidents which can easily surpass two volumes of The Arabian Nights. There is a little exaggeration in his storytelling for the sake of art. He has not stayed in the same job for more than a year. At the age of 64, he settled down in a flat in Kolkata.

The Duel of Lucknow (Translated from Satyajit Ray’s Bengali short story, Lucknow-er-Duel)

“Do you know what duel means?” asked Tarini Khuro. “Of course I know what it means,” replied Napla. “Dual role – it means a double role in films. Santosh Dutta played dual roles in Gupi Gayin, King of Halla and King of Shundi.”

“I’m not talking about that dual,” Tarini smiled. “It’s d-u-e-l, not d-u-a-l. It means a fight between two people.” “Yes, yes, we know!” we all exclaimed together. “A few years ago, I did a study on duels for my own knowledge,” went on Tarini. “It all started in the 16th century in Italy, and this trend gradually spread to the whole of Europe by the end of the century. In those days, swords were regarded as an important part of a gentleman’s personality. Say, a person, for some reason, humiliated another, so in order to save one’s reputation, the victim used to challenge that person to a duel. There was no way of rejecting such challenges; as a result this, a sword-fight used to take place between the two. It is not that one could actually save one’s reputation through this, as the challenger might not be an expert in swordplay. But as bearing an insult was regarded as to humiliating in those days, challenges were to be thrown.”

“Later, in the era of firearms like rifles and pistols, the pistol became the main dueling weapon instead of the sword. This happened in around the 18th century. Many people died and got hurt in these duels, so attempts in declaring this trend illegal were also made many a times by the authorities. But if one ruler put a ban on duels, maybe it started all over again during the reign of his successors because of their ignorance. These duels had unending rules and regulations! The two had to use exactly the same weapon, both were supposed to have ‘seconds’ or umpires to minimize the chances of cheating, and when the challenger’s second cried ‘fire!’ both opponents had to fire at the same time. I’m not sure if you know about this, but a very famous duel was fought in our Indian sub-continent. In fact, it took place in Calcutta itself.”

Even know-it-all, Napla did not know about it, and he shook his head like everybody else.

“Of the person who fought this duel,” Tarini carried on, “One of them is famous all over the world. He was the Governor General of British India, Warren Hastings. His opponent was Phillip Francis, a Presidium Member of the Governor General’s Council. For some reason, Hastings wrote a very insulting letter to Francis. Francis then challenged him to a duel. An open field near the Alipur National Library was selected as the dueling spot. Francis was the challenger, so one of his friends had to arrange a pair of pistols, and he was the one who shouted ‘fire!’ The pistols also were fired at the same time, but only one person fell to the ground – the wounded Phillip Francis. But the good news is, that wound was not very severe.”

“Alright, we are done with history,” Napla replied, “Tell us a story now. If you are thinking so much about duels, then I’m sure that you have quite an experience regarding this, right?” “It’s not any experience like you all are thinking, but hearing about this incident will definitely make your jaws drop.” Khuro replied.

After a quick sip of a cup of raw tea, taking out a packet of export quality beeri and a matchbox, and keeping these items on the mattress, Tarini started his long-awaited story:

I used to live in Lucknow then. I didn’t have a regular job at that time – didn’t even feel the need of having one either. Two and a half years ago, I had won a generous sum of Rs 2.5 lakhs in the Ranger’s Lottery; the interest from this money was then enough for me to live on. I’m talking about 1951, when things were not as costly as today. Moreover I was a bachelor, and only Rs 500-600 a month was quite sufficient for me. I lived in a small bungalow in La Touche Road and wrote stuff like jokes for ‘The Daily Pioneer’. One of my hobbies then, was visiting an auction house in Hazratganj once in a while. Some antiques of the Nawabi era could still be found at the shop. If the price was favorable, selling this stuff to rich American tourists earned me a good profit. It’s not that I was not interested in antiques. Though my living quarters were small, most of the showpieces were bought from this very shop.
On a bright Sunday morning, I went to the shop and saw a brown mahogany box lying lazily along with other items. It was about a cubit long, a palm-stretch wide and about three inches thick. Despite trying hard, I couldn’t figure out what was inside, so my curiosity about this box increased. There were many other interesting articles in the auction, but what I could think of was only that wooden box.

At last, after waiting for about an hour, I saw the auctioneer pick it up. I sat up erect in rapt attention. As usual, he started praising the article in typical auction style, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I now have the pleasure of presenting before you a very interesting item. Look, I’m opening the lid now. Its about two hundred years old, but look! It still retains its old glory. We all can see the world famous producer of firearms, Joseph Manton’s logo on this magnificent pair of dueling pistols! You won’t find another pair like this!”

That was good enough for me; I had to buy those pistols. Even my imagination started soaring. I could see in front of my very eyes that the two challengers were standing 20 cubits away from each other, and when the second shouts ‘fire’ both shoot together, resulting in severe bloodshed. As I was thinking about these things, the auction had already started. When a Gujarati gentleman from Charbagh shouted out 700 rupees, I bid 1000 rupees at once. And that was all! No more price proposals for the day and the pistols were mine at last.

When I brought my treasure home, I observed that these were indeed an ideal pair of dueling pistols. The butts of the pistols were as glamorous as their barrels. The length of each pistol was about 17 inches. Both of them had the maker’s name engraved with great care – Joseph Manton. I had studied about guns before; in the end of the 18th century. Joseph Manton had been one of the most efficient in producing firearms.

It had been only three months since I had been in Lucknow. Very few Bengalis lived there, and I did not get the chance of associating with them much. I used to stay at home in the evenings; people who lived in my place included a servant, a cook and myself. A plot related to a duel was revolving inside my head from the moment I had bought those pistols, so I sat on the armchair with a notebook to jot it down. Just then, I heard a knock at the door. Who could it be? Maybe some foreigner customer of mine, I thought. I had earned quite a name as a supplier of antiques by then.
I quickly opened the door, and yes I was right.

The man at the door was indeed a foreigner. About forty-five years old, it was apparent that he has spent a lot of time in the sub-continent. Maybe he was born here too, an Anglo-Indian. ‘Good Evening,’ I greeted him. The Sahib said, ‘I need to have a word with you. May I come in please?’ ‘Of course’, I replied. The Sahib did not have a hybrid accent in his pronunciation. I showed him in to my living room. Now I got a better look at him in the bright light. He was quite handsome; he had blonde hair, a thick golden moustache, blue eyes and he was wearing a gray suit. I said, ‘Sir, I’m not in the habit of drinking, but may I get you a cup of tea or coffee if you like?’ The gentleman refused me very politely saying that he already had his dinner. He said, ‘I saw you at the auction house in Hazratganj this morning.’ ‘You were there too?’, I asked. ‘Yes, but you were too captivated to notice me’, he replied. ‘Actually, I was craving for something…., but you became its owner; a pair of dueling pistols, made by Joseph Manton. You are very lucky.’ I could not but ask him something.

‘Did they belong to someone you know?’

‘Yes, but it has been a long time since he passed away. After his death, I did not have the slightest idea where these pistols went. May I have a look at them? There is a story related to them, that’s why….’

I gave him the mahogany box with the pistols in it. The Sahib took out the pistols and looked at them with great awe. Taking them in front of the lamp for a better look, he said, ‘These pistols were once used for a duel in Lucknow, do you know about that?’ ‘A duel in Lucknow?’ ‘Yes. It happened about two hundred years ago, at the end of the 19th century. Actually, there are only three days to go for the 250th anniversary of this incident. On 16th October.’ ‘Really?’ I asked, ‘Yes indeed,’ He replied.

‘That’s very strange! But who are the people who fought the duel…?’

Sahib put the pistols back in their case and sat on the sofa, ‘I’ve heard the story so many times that I can almost see the things happening in front of my eyes. Dr. Jeremiah Hudson’s daughter Annabelle Hudson was one of the most renowned beauties in Lucknow. She was a girl of the robust type; she rode horses, was an expert in shooting- just like a brave man. On the other hand, she was a great singer and dancer too. At that time, a British artist named John Ellingworth went to Lucknow to make a portrait of the Nawab. But when he heard about Annabelle’s beauty, he decided to go to her house and make a portrait of her first. The portrait was well painted, but long before that Ellingworth was deeply in love with Annabelle.’

‘On the other hand, a few days ago Annabelle met a Charles Bruce at a party. At that time, there was a large part of the Bengal regiment in Lucknow, and Bruce was a captain of that regiment. Bruce too fell in love with her at first sight.’
‘Two days after the party, Bruce could not stand it any more. He just had to meet Annabelle, so he went to her house at once. What he saw there was an unknown man drawing Annabelle’s portrait. Though Ellingworth was not a very young man, he sure was good looking. Moreover, Bruce understood by his very look that he also had fallen for Annabelle. Charles Bruce used to have a strong disliking for people like artists, and in this case he called this artist a name or two in front of Annabelle.’

‘Ellingworth was a very artistic and gentle person. But such an insult in front of Annabelle was quite hard for him to swallow. He challenged Bruce to a duel at once, which the latter happily accepted. The day and date of the duel was also fixed: 16th October, 6 am.’ ‘I think you know that both the duelers need a second?’

I said, ‘I know. They work as umpires in the field; it’s their duty to ensure that the duel rules are followed properly.’

‘You’re right. In most cases, a friend or such of the challenger is chosen as the second. Though Ellingworth did not know many people in Lucknow, a government official named Hugh Drummond came to his aid as his second. Ellingworth also requested him to arrange a pair of quality dueling pistols, as according to the rule, both the weapons should be exactly alike. In the meantime Captain Bruce also chose a second, his friend Phillip Moxon.’

‘The day of the duel drew nearer and nearer. Nobody was at the least in doubt about its result, because Captain Bruce was an expert with pistols. Maybe Ellingworth was good with his paintbrush, but he had the least experience with firearms.’

After saying these words, the Sahib came to a halt. I could help asking him, ‘What happened in the end?’ The gentleman smiled, ‘Every year on 16th October, 6 am this incident is repeated.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I mean exactly what I am say, if you go there the day after tomorrow you can see for yourself.’

‘What are you saying! This is unusual and…unearthly!’
‘There is no hard-and-fast rule about going there. You can just go and see for yourself only if you wish to.’
‘But how can I find the place? I’m quite new over here. I don’t know much about the city…’
‘Have you heard about Dilkusha?’
‘Yes I know that place.’
‘I’ll wait for you outside Dilkhusha at 5:45 am.’
‘Okay then, see you at the dueling spot.’

With these words, the stranger bid me goodbye and left. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t even asked what his name was. Anyway, the name did not matter at that time; the thing that mattered the most now was the story he had told me. I just could not believe that such a romantic incident took place in this very city. Moreover, right then, I was holding a pair of pistols, which had played a vital role in this duel. But who ultimately won over this Annabelle Hudson? There was yet another question- of the two men who was the person Annabelle loved? I hoped this mystery will be revealed on 16th October.

16th October was soon knocking at the door. On the night of the 15th, I was returning home from a musical show. It was then when I met the Sahib again in the street. He said, ‘I was on the way to your house now, just to remind you,’ I replied, ‘It’s not that I’ve forgotten about it, I’m actually waiting very eagerly for tomorrow morning.’

The Sahib then bid me goodbye.

The next day, I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock at 5 am. After having a quick cup of tea and wrapping a muffler around my neck, I took a horse carriage and set off for Dilkusha. Dilkusha Kothi lies in the outskirts of the city, which was at one time, the pleasure garden of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. At that time, there was a huge park surrounded by a wall where a large number of deer used to graze. Even a cheetah or two entered these gardens, once in a blue moon. Now only the remains of the house could be seen, and a garden is maintained near the house; people go there for evening strolls once in a while.

I reached the spot at 5:35 pm, and told the coachman to wait for half an hour so that I didn’t have to search for another carriage on my way home. As I knew Urdu quite well, the coachman took me to be an aristocratic man and agreed to wait.

Getting down from the carriage, I saw the Sahib standing under a tree at a stone’s throw away. He informed that he had just arrived before five minutes. I said, ‘Alright Sahib, lead the way and I’ll follow you.’ After about five minutes, we arrived at an open field. Very little could be seen because of the dense fog, maybe just the same kind of fog was there on the day of duel. The Sahib came to a halt in front of a ramshackle house, full of weeds and thorny bushes. Anyone can say from the first look that it was a house of the British period. Well, we did not go there to deal with the house. We turned away from it and faced the east. Though it was foggy, we could still see some tamarind trees in front of us, and to the right of those trees, there lay a large bush. The river Gomti was flowing serenely; we could see through the fog that there were no inhabitants on the banks. All these elements added a mystic feel to the scenario.

‘Did you hear that?’ the Sahib asked all of a sudden. As I tried to listen very carefully, I finally placed it to be a sound of hooves. I just could not deny that a chill ran down my spine on hearing it. Along with that, I had the strange feeling of excitement and curiosity of a new adventure. This time I saw two men on horseback. They finally stopped under a tamarind tree at our left. ‘Are these the people who will fight?’ I whispered to him.

He said, ‘Not both, only one of them will fight. The taller person is Ellingworth, the challenger. The other is his friend and his second, Hugh Drummond. Look! Drummond has the mahogany box in his hand.’ It was true then! Now I understood that my pulse rate was increasing rapidly. My heartbeat has increased at the thought of watching a 250-year-old incident in front of my very eyes.
In a few minutes, Captain Bruce and his second, Phillip Moxon arrived, riding their horses. After that Drummond, took out the pistols from their case and re-loaded them with bullets. He handed them over to the opponents, Bruce and Ellingworth, giving them a brief on the rules. The sky soon took a rosy hue, reflecting its colour in the river Gomti.

Bruce and Ellingworth were soon ready to face each other. They stood face to face and then moved fourteen steps back. They turned around to face each other once more. I could not hear a single sound till now, but now I saw the opponents pointing their pistols at each other, I clearly heard Drummond shout, ‘Fire!’ The next moment I heard a deafening sound of two pistols.I was shocked to see both the opponents fall to the ground at the same time.There was another thing that shocked me – from behind those bushes I was talking about, came out a lady. She ran and disappeared in the thick fog.

‘So, you saw the results yourself,’ the Sahib said. ‘In this duel both the challengers had to face death.’ ‘That’s okay, but who was the lady coming out from the bushes?’ I inquired.

‘That was Annabelle’
‘Annabelle?’

‘She understood that Captain Bruce would not die in Ellingworth’s hands, but she wanted both of them to leave this world. So she decided not to take a chance and shot Bruce herself when the command ‘Fire!’ came. Ellingworth’s bullet didn’t even touch Bruce.’

‘But why did Annabelle do such a thing?’
‘Because she did not love any of the men. She knew that Ellingworth would die, and Bruce would live and taunt her for the rest of her life. She didn’t want such a life, because she loved somebody else – the one she married afterwards and lived happily ever after.’

I noticed that the 250-year-old duel scene was rapidly vanishing in thin air. The fog was getting even denser then before. I was thinking about Annabelle in awe when I heard a voice. It was a female voice, which gave me the shock of my life.

‘Hugh! Hugh!’
‘Annabelle’s calling,’ whispered the Sahib.
The second I looked at Sahib, a chill ran down my spine. Who is this person standing right in front of me? He was wearing those ancient 250-year-old clothes!

‘Sorry I couldn’t introduce myself before,’ He said; his voice distant and unearthly, clearly coming from another world. ‘My name is Hugh Drummond, Ellingworth’s friend and Annabelle’s love. Goodbye.’
I watched with horror, as he proceeded towards that ramshackle house. He disappeared in the dense fog before I could say anything. After returning home by the carriage, I opened the mahogany box and took out the pistols once again. When I reached out for them, I felt that they were hot. I brought them close to my nose to smell them.

It did not take me long to recognize the smell of fresh gunpowder.

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PERIPATETIC SOJOURNS II: OF BOOKS, COMICS AND CITIES

With a hunger for books (and Phantom comics) since my childhood, developed by the likes of Hobby Corner, Soochna Kendra and British Library, Lucknow, my fascination for the printed stuff, with its delicious aroma and ability to take me off to far-off places and times, continued in later life too. But priorities changed, cities changed, availabilities changed. So let me describe my experiences in some other cities of India. It may serve as a guide to book-lovers who visit these places at some point of time. Of course, since my ramblings are spread over a considerable period of time, it’s possible that the places / availability I describe no longer exist presently. And of course, other, better outlets may also exist. I describe my own experiences.. not a Google Directions search. The focus is mainly on second-hand books.

Lucknow: Other than the outlets being discussed all the time, a pavement seller in the Central Bank Building, Hazratganj, and a shack in the Capitol Building do keep gems sometimes. Once I picked up a huge lot of comics from the CBI Building seller.

Delhi: The much publicized Daryaganj Sunday market is a haven, but one should have the patience, dedication and money to squander in here. Booklovers swoop in early, and grab their poison, even while the sellers are opening their gunny bags and cartons. The stuff displayed on the pavement later on, is for the not-so-well-informed or connected. By connection, I mean readers have their connections with the sellers, and much stuff does not reach the pavement at all, being ‘reserved’ for a particular long-time customer. Other than this, a pavement kiosk in Janpath Market (surrounded by sellers of counterfeit jeans and tees) is recommended. The rounded all-glass shop, opp. Indian Oil Bhavan, Janpath, is also good. It used to be better in the past. Pavement book sellers in Parliament Street (Regal Building), CP, were uprooted sometime ago. They were a good option.

Calcutta (Kolkata): Another much publicized, overrated market is College Street. More of college books, less of light reading, unhealthy bargaining and a not-so-very pleasant experience. Language issues might be there (not for me though), for non-Bengali speaking customers. More gems can be found in New Market area, especially Mirza Ghalib Street (Free School Street). Area opposite Jadavpur University gate also has good bookshops.

Madras (Chennai): Not many options. Mount Road (Anna Salai) had some good pavement sellers. These have been mostly uprooted now. Try Parry’s area. I have been informed that Poonamallee High Road has some interesting bookshops, but I have no personal experience.

Bangalore (Bengaluru): Explore MG Road / Brigade Road area. The famous Higgenbotham exists here. Book World in Kemp Gowda Road is awesome (for new books only). Upparpet is a good bet.

Bombay (Mumbai): The pavement booksellers in and around Flora Fountain (Kala Ghoda) and Fort have been dispersed long ago. But they re-appear with amazing persistence. Mahim is a good bet, but one has to ask around. Other areas of promise include Kalba Devi, Bandra and Andheri (W). Being huge areas, better get your logistics clear before-hand before venturing forth. King’s Circle, Matunga is dotted with booksellers, selling books and magazines from footpaths and tiny shacks.

Hyderabad: A second hand book market is permanently located near the boundary wall of the Osmania Medical College at Koti. Walk down the entire Abid’s Road, and you will come across makeshift shops selling second hand books in kiosks, pavements etc. Turn towards Koti (via Troop Bazaar), and explore Koti area. There is a Sunday book market at Abid’s, or so I have been informed. But I have not explored it in person.

Poona (Pune): Manney’s (Clover Center, Camp), is a traditional-type book store in Pune. Shivaji Nagar Market has books sellers operating from pavements and shacks.

Chandigarh: There used to be a vast second-hand book market opposite the Punjab University Gate, but I am not sure whether it still exists or not.

Allahabad: There used to be a Universal Book Shop in Civil Lines area, but its been eons since I last went there. Old Chowk area also used to have hole-in-the-wall bookshops, but again, I am out of touch with that area.

Nainital: There is a second hand bookshop mid-way in Mall Road, which has a rather good collection, if a somewhat cynical attitude. I don’t blame the shopkeeper though, perhaps tourists of all hues walking in and bargaining, without buying anything has made him this way. But I could be wrong.. perhaps he was born that way..

Nagpur: Explore the vast Seeta Berdi area. If you are lucky, you may come across something of interest. Ambazari is another good bet.

Ranchi: There are several bookshops down the entire stretch of Main Road (MG Road), from Firayalal Chowk to Sujata Chowk, including the now tottering: Good Books. There was a time when Good Books was a favorite of the ho-polloi of the city. A hole-in-the-wall shop, behind Urdu Library, Main Road, has an impressive collection of old books and comics. An impressive second hand book market starts from Karbala Chowk (the Muslim quarter) and ends near Albert College, a Christian seminary. This market proudly boasts of a huge range of college books, engineering and medical text books, fiction, and comics. Pretty impressive, if one can ignore the sordid surroundings.

To conclude..

A second-hand Bookshop

The sunlight filters through the panes
Of book-shop windows, pockmarked grey
By years of grimy city rains,
And falls in mild, dust-laden ray
Across the stock, in shelf and stack,
Of this old bookshop-man who brought,
To a shabby shop in a cul-de-sac,
Three hundred years of print and thought.
Like a cloak hangs the bookshop smell,
Soothing, unique and reminding:
The book-collector knows its spell,
Subtle hints of books and binding
In the fine, black bookshop dust
Paper, printer’s-ink and leather,
Binder’s-glue and paper-rust
And time, all mixed together.
`Blake’s Poems, Sir-ah, yes, I know,
Bohn did it in the old black binding,
In ’83.’ Then shuffles slow
To scan his shelves, intent on finding
This book of songs he has not heard,
With that deaf searcher’s hopeful frown
Who knows the nightingale a bird
With feathers grey and reddish-brown.

– John Arlott
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STAR Library, Hazratganj

STAR LIBRARY: Does anybody re-collect it? No? OK.. here goes.

There is a lane between the GIC/Beg Building and the Kayson’s building.. this lane starts from Hazratganj and joins Newal Kishore Road. Star Library was a shack, at the starting of the lane (Hazratganj side), with a very good collection of second-hand books, comparable to Hobby Corner. The shack was airless, dimly lit and the owner was a taciturn, unsmiling bloke, with a no-bargain policy. Unlike HC, which had a systematic, if rather weird pricing policy, Star’s pricing was totally arbitrary, and depended on the owner’s mood, as well as one’s personal relations with him. So what was so unique about this rather unpleasant shop? The unique thing was: the owner would take out his entire stock and spread it on the pavement in front of Kayson’s/Modern Silk House/Bata on Sundays!! There, one could browse, fidget, dawdle, and generally have fun, un-hampered by the close environs of the shop. Star was a favorite of the oldies, as compared to HC, which was a haunt of the young crowd, especially school kids.

With time, Star suffered its set backs.. another shack close-by, dealing with school uniforms prospered and moved out into mainstream Hazratganj. One day, Star and its stock of books vanished all together.

My association with Star was limited. But yes, I bought my first two Hadley Chase novels from Star: “There’s Always A Price Tag” and “You’ve Got It Coming”. These novels formed the nucleus of my JHC fascination… and gradually I built up the entire collection of JHC over the years, which culminated into the launching of the first and only comprehensive website on JHC in 2004. Now I am considered to be an authority on JHC, getting mails and queries from all over the world, from authors, researchers, film producers and readers, all about Chase. I try to answer as best as possible. I am no authority on Chase, but yes, I do know a lot about him and his works. And I am prepared to share my knowledge, to perpetuate the memory of this great, if somewhat underrated author.

And it all started on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with STAR Library… May the taciturn owner of STAR find peace, wherever he is…

You can visit my JHC site at: http://www.hadleychase.co.nr