In a typical Indian town or suburban area, it is not just the crack of dawn that heralds a new day but also the mingled sounds that come from near and afar. The earliest sound is the call to prayer from the nearby mosque, the crisp, beautiful azaan echoing in waves in the silent air. Soon after begins the incessant cock-a-doodle-do of roosters, a pure, refreshing call. It has been said that a rooster crows on seeing angels and wakes one up for the morning prayer. The voice of the roosters is intermixed with the comforting sound of dawn chorus that still echoes in our neighborhood, thankfully – cawing crows, chirruping sparrows, cheeping mynahs and white-eyes, cooing doves and pigeons, tinkling bulbuls, occasionally a black kite can be heard whistling overhead. There is a menagerie of wildlife that has adjusted to the human lifestyle and contributes to the morning “commotion” as well – cheeping squirrels in the nearby mango tree, the barking, howling, shrieking street dogs, bleating goats and so on.
The scratching sound of broomstick on the hard concrete floor tells that the shopkeeper is up, sweeping off the litters from the front of his shop and sometimes, a splashing of water is heard as well, to wash off the roadside grit and dust, either on occasion of any special event or perhaps it is just an extra effort to cleanliness. The vehicles come clattering next, sometimes, as early as 4 am. The banging of doors is followed by the thump-thump of bulks being dropped off in the front of the shops – packets of milk, boxes of ration, sacks of vegetables and fruits. The voices of men waft in through the window as they talk while offloading, an indecipherable gibber.
All of this and many more sounds, distant and near, are very comforting to hear while warmly tucked in a blanket in a particularly cold morning. The world is preparing to start a new day again and one feels grateful to have witnessed it and ready to be a part of it too.
What are the sounds in your neighborhood that remind you of early morning?
If people noticed their natural surroundings more often, I am sure they would find that sooner or later, a small, beautiful winged creature would come along fluttering around the blossoms or just lightly alight on them only to flutter off again. I am sure people see butterflies of course, but we don’t watch them, register them in our consciousness. In short, we take them for granted.
I came across a dead butterfly today while taking a walk in office campus. I picked it up and it was so light, the wings so soft I could hardly feel it. The powdery dust on its wings rubbed off in my fingertips, a shimmer of gold and brown. I upturned it and placed it on my mobile’s screen. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I suppose we take creatures such as butterflies so for granted, that we hardly care to stop and feel its aliveness around us. It felt wrong because although it was dead, I felt it would fly away any moment now. And, that is because I suppose, I didn’t know the difference of feeling when a butterfly is alive and when it is not. It is such a subtle thing. I guess, we, humans, will never learn the art of feeling such subtleties, such as distinguishing between a breathing, alive butterfly or a dead one. I pushed it ever so slightly to take it from the screen’s edge onto my palm, and the slight push contracted the hindwings under the forewings, effortlessly. It reminded me of contracting wings of an airplane after taking off. The things we humans know and not know. I was amazed. I pulled it down a bit, and the wingspan started to open until I felt it was open completely. If it had been alive, it would have done that voluntarily to keep it afloat in the air and if that is not magical, I am not sure what is. I carefully picked it up from the tip of its wings, took a shot of it and put it gently on a shrubbery nearby. After all, I am not sure, what is the best way you say final farewell to butterflies, how to bury their dead.
A butterfly is usually a symbol of fragility and beauty. Beautiful, yes. Fragile, both yes and no. It is fragile because we don’t know the art of handling it and we may easily harm it. But, it is not fragile in terms of survival, carving out a way to survive concrete jungles, with much less natural surroundings to thrive in compared to older days. The fireflies are, after all, long gone from our surroundings. No doubt, the butterflies are not as ubiquitous as they used to be, but they are still around. But, the question is, are we noticing them, caring to just have a glimpse and bless their presence? Or, maybe a bit more enthusiastic and actually going ahead to plant flowers and shrubs to welcome them home? And, if not, I am not sure how long they are going to be around us, filling our lives with a bit of magic and aliveness, as they do every day, whether we notice, or not.
As an introvert, I mostly prefer to stay at home on weekends to enjoy a cup of tea and a good book. So, in order to make me go out, the best lure my husband has found out (previously used by my parents too) is to casually remark that, “there is a bookstore over there too, by the way”. And, that’s that, I am up and ready in a matter of a few minutes. After all, there is no other place more awesome than a bookshop (or library) and no, I don’t care if you disagree or have anything to say otherwise. Bookshops are simply magical and only those who truly love books can feel it, love not just for reading but love for books as a magical object too. And, so the love for bookshops is only natural for us book-lovers and we all can relate to the pleasure of breathing in that intoxicating vanilla perfume found in the shops and in between new and old pages; there is a pleasure too in beholding, in awe, the racks and shelves stacked with books of all kind in neat arrangement, but more beautifully, piled on ground and in cramped spaces from floor to ceiling. I can pour hours and hours into such a place, running my finger through the spine of books, murmuring the titles under the breathe, occasionally taking out a tattered copy to read the blurb on the back or dust jacket, and sometimes, tucking one of them under my arm to take home. I am wholly indulged in this whim of mine by my loved ones who, after such a test of patience, ask me that, “Maybe we could come again later?” and I can’t help falling in love with them all over again.
While I was in Chennai, I had been to almost all the bookshops there that were worth going to (or rather I got opportunity to): Higginbothams (the store in Anna Salai – it has a feeling of an old building, it was opened in 1905, after all! The collection is very good, the second-hand section can be a bit stifling and hot but worth perusing through. Also, the branch in my university whose owner knew that I would buy a book no matter what else I went to buy in there even though the collection was limited, I mostly bought Ruskin Bond there), Giggles (a tiny shop literally stuffed with books owned by a lovely old lady offering intelligent conversation and brilliant recommendations), Crossword (it is too small, I don’t remember the location, it’s somewhere near Marina Beach), Landmark (in City Center, good collection but still not satisfactory), and Star Mark (in Phoenix Market City – the collection is comparatively better than other showroom kinds of bookstore). Also, there was an old man with cart load of cheap second (or third) hand books under one of the footbridges in OMR, only once I bought a couple of books from there because most of the times it used to be ‘closed’ or there were not any interesting book.
After moving to Bangalore, it was only a matter of time for me to start exploring bookshops here too. The first one near my home in Forum Mall is a Crossword, it’s small but somehow the collection is nice. I have also been to the Crossword in VR Mall, HyperCity and Bangalore Central – the collection is not bad but still nothing more than the usual, mostly targeting teen readers and lovers of Chetan Bhagat and the like authors, although the offers on beautiful hardback classics are good. The next bookshop that I went to literally made my jaw drop. It is not really a shop but a spacious kiosk in front of Innovative Theatre in Marathahalli, its attraction lies in the tags hanging everywhere with “Rs 100 per Kg”! No doubt, they keep an assortment of hardbacks, all weighty tomes. But, there are many cheap paperbacks too, all in quite a good condition and they have a huge range of children books, and of course, classics. I fell in love with it and go there almost every month. I had also heard a lot about Blossom Book House in Church Street and finally got a chance to go there this week. The place really deserves the fame what with its four floors, all cramped and stacked with a bazillion of books from floor to ceiling, helpfully sectioned and yet failing at it. I literally got lost in the sea of shelves, and taking out a book from the pile was a challenge to make sure the books on top didn’t topple off. The smell was heavenly and the collection was definitely very good. No doubt, I spent considerable time there gawping at the shelves than actually picking something to buy. And, finally, while trying to find Blossoms, I also ended up in a shop called The Bookworm. It is small but equally cramped and all in all, a great place to buy second-hand and new books with a good discount, plus the owner is very helpful to find rare books and such.
I am aware that the Avenue Road is book street of Bangalore and that is where I intend to go next when I get into the book buying mode because right now I have so many to-read books in my bookcase and Kindle that sometimes, just sometimes only though, I feel guilty of having bought so many books.