Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Unequal Substitutions

And Book Tags

Kashinath’s store was a favorite haunt of mine. He had scores and scores of metal tins lined up at the back of his store and when you asked for GoodDay Cashew or Britannia Bourbon he would know exactly which opaque metal tin to go to, and sometimes he would take a detour and fish out a Salty Krackjack just to startle me. I would giggle and discover that I did have a sudden craving for that too and he would then throw in a couple of free ones among the lot, a pleasant surprise for later on. Going to his store was the ritual that kept me accompanying my Mom to the market and holding heavy grocery bags laden with greens and cooking oil and the most unappealing stuff for many, many years. The familiar old man behind the old counter welcomed me always with a twinkle in his eye and if not with a surprise up his sleeve every time, at least with the confidence of knowing his customers and anticipating their needs. “Go get something from Kashinath” while handing out a 50 Rupee note was a familiar phrase at home and it meant goodies from the old opaque tins. Until Kashinath disappeared suddenly one day and the guys who took over his store changed pretty much everything except its location. It was bigger, glitzier and so damn new....and the metal tins were replaced by shiny glass cases and there was no time for surprises and extras. It was ‘Business, Business and Move Along Now!’ They kept a whole range of stuff and there were shiny posters of young girls and boys eating Ruffles Lays everywhere, the aisles were lined with hundreds of imported products and there were customers aplenty! But the customers were all new too...the familiar faces of Kashinath’s patrons were no longer to be seen. Loyalty couldn't be blueprinted, of course.

When I heard about WordsWorth Books in Cambridge closing it's doors for the last time late last year, I flinched, but in all honesty it didn’t bother me for long as I’ve not spent too much time there. But on Saturday morning when I stopped at my favorite Rodney’s to browse till Mr.Gabby got done with his haircut, I stopped at the door suddenly and wondered if this would disappear too someday. Rodney’s was one of our earliest finds and if you ever want to find out more about the face behind this handle called Gratisgab, just hang around there often enough and chances are we will meet very soon. Though the guy who looks after the store at this location seems too unbothered to talk to anybody, prod him a bit and you will find out the most delightful tidbits about Boston, about authors from this area, and book signing events that did not quite go as they were supposed to. After one particular visit there Mr.Gabby felt an intense need to hang out at “The Last Drop” – a bar in the neighborhood, every chance he got. Apparently the “Mystic River” author Dennis Lehane bartends there some Fridays just to relax and tell some stories. You never know which Friday will be your lucky day! Now the Barnes and Noble across the street or your tycoon online bookstore will never give you a scoop like that, will it? Rodney’s is also a great place to find books that are no longer in publication or even stuff that’s not quite on the shelves of a regular store. This time I got the uncorrected proof version of the same author’s work “Shutter Island” for the hubby. Somebody is now eating out of somebody’s hand and somebody is making full use of that :)

It’s a downward spiraling battle for the Rodneys and Kashinaths of the world. The glitzy-cased guys are swooping in and swallowing them whole and I’m terrified that our sons and daughters will never know the joy of discovering an old classic in a wonderful condition that has been out of print for decades or of being surprised with a Krackjack between GoodDays. And most importantly, they won’t have the stories that are the priceless upgrade to the shopping experience, that make the customer-merchant interaction a relationship, way more than a mere transaction of commodities. I wish I could do more than just blog about this....I will go pick up some more books after work today and if you’re ever in Boston please do the same. It's so neat and so beautifully organized, it’ll always be a pleasure. Meanwhile please patronize your local stores, if you can, and while we still can. I wonder where Kashinath’s loyals went...and how long before they succumbed to the glitzy place. And I wonder how long before we cross the street to Barnes and Noble if something happens to dear Rodney’s....but let’s at least fight it for as long as we can...


While on the topic of books, Ashwin, Patrix and Suhail have tagged me with these book questions and I will oblige them now. And later on, in my yet-to-come sequel about griping on friends, they will all be given lead roles.

Total books I own: Hmmm...maybe 400 or 500. I notice people are counting the first Tinkle they bought too...so maybe even more actually.

Last book I bought:
The Pearl Diver. Written in a refreshing style and very moving. It’s about a young girl diagnosed with leprosy in Japan in the 1940s. The diver is exiled to Nagashima, an island leprosarium that hosted all known patients and is instructed to forget her past. And though the disease never progresses beyond the very, very early stages, she lives her entire life in exile and can no longer fit in the real world even after she is free to go.

Last book I read: The Ha-Ha Not bad.

Books that mean a lot to me (five at least):

• The Asterix Series, the Enid Blytons (especially the ones with the Faraway Tree) and Raggity and the Cloud – Nothing like magic potions, lands that arrived at the top of the tree in a magical forest and a runaway cloud to keep a child’s imagination alive I say!
Lust for Life – Made me realize how safe I play...but also how 'average' is not such a bad thing.
Anna Karenina – Loved it, loved it, loved it.
God of Small Things – Of course
Roots – Wow
The Good Earth – My first serious author was Pearl S. Buck. And she remains a favorite.
Love Story – When I have to pause from my reading because I can’t see though my tears any more, I know the sentimental sucker inside of me has been fed, very well.
The Fountainhead – Causes me trouble, constantly.
The Golden Gate – How Did He Do It??!
Pigs Have Wings – My first Wodehouse, suggested to me by a very special person. Pigs, aunts and butlers lost their blandness forever.

A book that's on its way out of your house as you write this:
There are definitely some I’ve regretted picking up...but they’ll never leave the house. Just not in me to orphan a book. I’m a total wuss that way.

Update - I've just realized that I'm supposed to tag another 5 people. The first 5 commentors on this piece can please do the honours. I know some of you don't have blogs yourself so you can spread the love right here on my comment box. I've also realized that Ashwin had tagged me with a movie thing and not a book thing. Maaaan! So the tag mutated while passing through my blog, Ashwin!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's sad that so many neighborhoods lose their identity and character because a big name chain has more clout and money! And here's NOT to another Starbucks opening where my favorite local coffee shop is...

Great post!

10:27 AM  
Anonymous burf said...

there was a day when Joe enjoyed looking at the guy on the stage of The Globe enacting tree; there was a day Joe enjoyed looking at the robotic tree on the stage of The Globe in comfort of his home 3000 miles away from the stage; there was a day Joe enjoyed coming back after enjoying looking at the guy enacting tree on the stage of The Globe...

we all fight change but its natural to change and in the process we underestimate the wonderful power called time which ensures that the present is as beautiful in its own special way as was the past and as would the future be.

...and all the Joes above existed in 1599, 2005 and 2530 respectively :D

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Gratis. A person who cannot bring herself to throw a book is a book-lover indeed. :)


12:17 PM  
Blogger tilotamma said...

I thought I was a Rodney's regular - maybe we will meet up some time.

2:41 PM  
Blogger VC said...

priceless upgrade to the shopping experience

couldn't have put it better myself......who am i kidding. i couldn't even have put is as well as that.....

3:37 PM  
Blogger tilotamma said...


Rodny is another Alwar really? Never thought of it that way!

4:46 PM  
Blogger thennavan said...

What a coincidence? I just came back from our local Indian store with two Krackjacks (one of my favorites). I would love to hang around Rodney's just to see who this "Gratisgab" character is :-) but then if I hung around too long without meeting this mysterious lady, I may arouse enough suspicion in this post-9/11 scenario that they may call someone with a blue uniform and a badge who would then put me "gratis" on his/her "cab" for a ride downtown :-)

5:05 PM  
Blogger visithra said...

It is sad what giant stores are doing to this papa stores. Hopefully they aren't just a memory of the past in the future.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Patrix said...

It takes a special person to be tagged thrice :)thanks for doing this. I don't usually encourage memes but anything for books, I guess. The era of quaint bookstores is, am afraid past us but only when such places are few, will they retain a enigmatic and poetic touch.

7:17 PM  
Blogger anantha said...

Hmmm Gabby. You are quite the brainy reader! Apart from the Fountainhead, the Enid Blytons and the Asterix series, I havent read any of the books you have mentioned. I think I must start reading again! Havent discovered a new author in years now :(
Btw, That old post that you linked to, brought a lot more things that we seem to have in common! OR and Math Programming huh... sooper :) My thesis had bits of both and my grad advisor is a total math programming guy!

8:11 PM  
Blogger phatichar said...

Hmmmmm..interesting reads those.. :)

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rodney will see a huge spike in business. People who go to see who gabby actually is might all buy a book or two :D

10:32 PM  
Blogger Miss Sea said...

Its the discounts which the big bookstores offer that attract people to it. A major threat to bookstores are the pirated e books!!

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Zoheb said...

Kya books wooks .... Tell us about your Paris trip naa .... been waiting for ages.

11:25 PM  
Blogger KJ said...


books books books as derek o' brien used to say on bournvita quiz contest. the very first book that i owned was the BQC general knowledge book & i loved it...........

i had a good collection till i got married all courtesy the bookwallahs on the pavement at churchgate. here in UAE the books are pretty expensive so :(

hope u had a nice trip..

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Ghost Rider said...

hey .. thanks for dropping by ! nice write up you have there !!

hmmm .. I just realised that I have read very few of those books in ure list !!! "pigs have wings" .. an awesome book ... "Anna Karenina" .. slept reading that :D .. in fact in the book that Im reading now .. one of the characters starts reading "Anna Karenina" to try get some sleep .. he he

6:58 AM  
Blogger Peg said...

Ya, our local bookstore is going out too, but unlike yours they have done it to themselves and its too bad! As a matter of fact as I was driving by the other day I got this strong urge to own it!! I wondered in my daydream if I really could "swing" it!!

A thought a thought a thought!

I loved your post!! :-)

7:55 AM  
Blogger The Reporter said...

I loved the faraway tree too! And the wishing chair :) Pigs have Wings .. lovely one . .Have you read Piccadilly Jim? That's another hilarious Wodehouse

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Ashok said...

It's a shame about the little stores. Pune is not the same either. I'm sometimes quite lost because my old landmarks are no longer recognizable.

"Lust for Life" a bit shocking to me. I did not know about Van Gogh cutting off his own ears and it came as a surprise :)

Good post.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous alpha said...

Zoheb, me too!

Gabby, nice one..I really like going to stores where you get free stuff.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Rash said...

I loved that post. but that's the way of the world,sadly...

4:19 AM  
Blogger manuscrypts said...

so, how does it feel to be a tag mutator?? :D

7:12 AM  
Blogger anumita said...

Reading your list itself is taking me back to a different time...

9:14 PM  
Blogger AmitL said...

Great to know someone who's still a fan of collector's editions and good books,in these days of ebooks and what not.:)I'm the same,where books are concerned.Baroda has a quaint shop called 'East and West', which has retained it's 'flavour' since more than half a century now...it's still a must-visit for me whenever i visit there.:)And,nice to see Enid Blyton's and Asterixes are on ur list,too..heh heh..lastly, i'm glad u mutated the invite...books were a more interesting topic than movies.

12:55 AM  
Blogger The Man Who Wasnt There said...

So how long does this I-am-still-in-nostalgic-land phase gonna continue?;) But yeah am surprising myself I thought I was more of a "what next?" guy and err...I seem to be living in the past too!
Books!! One could go on and on abt it! But guess our literary tastes differ slightly....but I own quite a lot of books too though most of it is in circulation (other words conveniently forgotten by people who borrowed it!)

You are in Boston? Perhaps you could have chosen "Amanda" as your pseudonym! :D :D

2:37 AM  
Blogger Pallavi said...

hmmm !! made me feel nostalgic about my comic collection :) SIGH

3:21 AM  
Blogger tilotamma said...

OK done........
The meme I mean...

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Ash said...

OH MY GOD !! I cant believe my eyes !!

Raggity and the Cloud ???

I didnt think there was anyone else in the whole frikkin world who'd read it !! This is too cool !
I so love you for bringing on a wave of nostalgia !


4:51 PM  
Blogger Suhail said...

Guess, Kashinaths everywhere are fighting a losing battle.

11:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gabby, "The good earth" is a favorite of mine too! That pearl diver book seems so sad girl...! Ok write something new now!


7:36 AM  
Blogger sanguine said...

i used to wonder why my parents used to go on n on n on abt the changes in the cities they had left behind.. now i do the same too.
you had a kashinath .. i had a bhanu dada . *sigh*

9:46 PM  
Blogger anumita said...

I am feeling like Kashinath was a part of my life too...

1:34 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Thanks for the comments people...! Sorry no individual replies...4 suitcases to pack and a a whole 'frig to clean out! Mr.Gabby says there's no point cheering from the sidelines I need to get in the thick of things :)

Ash - TOTALLY delighted that you read Raggity too. I NEVER expected anyone to mention it! That makes us some kind of soul sisters, REALLY! :)

2:00 PM  
Blogger Atta Girl said...

Pigs have wings, was my first PG book too! :-)

11:11 PM  
Anonymous sthitaprajna said...

wow. i was just searching for "Raggity and the Cloud" and i came across this page. damnit, i havent met anyone in 20 years who has read that book...

floating clouds, drinking wine from caskets, talking toads, poodles... memories.

1:40 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

atta girl - 'twas fun na?

sthitaprajna - now you have. we should form a club or something :)

10:07 AM  
Blogger sanjana said...

Loved Raggity and the cloud.....was wondering if there was any mention of it on the internet and found this blog... was really surprised and extremely happy.... loved raggity, the cloud, rositta -the toad, the chimney sweeper and of course barabatoots (think that was her name) and the semolina she would make... read the book 15 yrs ago when i was a kid.... at that age... and much later... kept wondering what semolina was...now at last.. i know...think i would try and read the books on this list as gabby has the same taste as mine...

10:26 AM  
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