This particular Sunday was better than most, a happier, mellower day than the ones in recent memory. The day started early as usual, I managed to clean my room, and my experimental recipe for chorizo con huevos didn't kill, maim or permanently damage anyone. Always a bonus. I stepped out for a cigarette, but somehow I never got round to lighting up. It was a nice day so I put my feet on autopilot like I always do for nice days, and shortly found myself outside the library. And wouldn't you know it, there was a book sale on.
I love book sales. Growing up in Bombay, some of my happiest memories are of Sunday afternoons spent browsing at the used book stalls in Churchgate. Delicately improvised shelters made from discarded plastic sheeting and bamboo poles, bound together with string, rope, wire, and glue, they stretched all the way from Flora Fountain down to the old Parsi well at the edge of Cross Maidan. Rain or shine, the booksellers would be there, setting up their wares at seven in the morning, and taking them down at nine, every night, like clockwork. I think that was one of the first places I felt the touch of probability, of the hidden workings of the world. When I visited Bombay, and book-street, for the first time, I was eight. I had never seen so many books gathered together in one place. An entire street lined with books! I was giddy with delight. My parents worked their way from shop to shop, picking out a novel here, a textbook there, bargaining with the dealers, asking them for such and such book by such author, this writer, that poet. Me, I didn't know where to start or where to stop. So I just ran from one end of the street to the other, drinking everything in, reveling in the glorious decadence of it all. More books than I could read in a lifetime! TWO lifetimes! I was the happiest eight year old on the entire planet.
When we finally moved to Bombay, I would visit book street every chance I got. I often played hooky from college, skipping class to hop on a bus to Churchgate, exchanging last week's book for another, and then catching another bus back to Girgaon chowpatty. I'd leave my body behind on the beach, and let my mind go wherever the book took it. Across the ocean, past Neptune and Pluto, backwards and forwards through time, over strange battlefields and under magical seas, living whole lifetimes in the space of one afternoon.
The annual Strand book sale was another treat. The used book stores in Lucknow gave me a taste for comics, science fiction and Agatha Christie. Book street nursed me on Kafka, Sartre, Jung and Nietzsche. And Strand introduced me to poetry. Neruda, Eliot, Woolf and Alighieri, all in one place, eager to grab my eye, feed my soul. I devoured entire volumes, whole stacks of books, and my appetite just grew. Smoker's Corner was another old haunt, that yielded many treasures, and satisfied many a mid-afternoon craving. Amidst all this chaos, my parents' personal libraries were the snack shops I would frequent between meals, having Ed McBain or Eric van Lustbader for an appetizer, and Wodehouse for dessert. And no matter how many books I read, there were always more to be had. It was heaven on Earth. A patchwork introduction to literature, but an education nonetheless.
Book street isn't there anymore. The street vendors were evicted by the municipal authorities years ago, and though you might still find a few secondhand booksellers in the area, it's just not the same. The Strand annual sale still happens at Shanmukhnanda Hall, but it's getting smaller with each passing year. I guess it's hard to compete with large bookstores like Crossword. Smoker's Corner hasn't changed too much, small enough to stay under the radar I guess, and they still carry those Doctor Who paperback serials I used to love as a kid. Time passes, Bombay changes to Mumbai, the pavements become spotless, unobstructed, and much too clean for the likes of me. Migrants do what they do best, never pitching their tent in the same place too long. Stay awhile, share what little you have to give, then move on.
But the book sale today brought all the happy memories rushing back, of a time less complicated. I breathed in the used book smell, and within moments, I was a child again, fresh-faced and eager, new-made, innocent, and desperate to read everything I could get my grubby little paws on. :)
I love California. The sun shines bright and true every day, even when its raining. And days like today make me love it even more. Of all the places in the world I could be, it's a strange and beautiful train of coincidences that have led to me being here. There was a time, not long ago, when I would have given anything to go back in time and change some things about my life. Avoided a lot of hurt, much too much guilt, and a fair amount of pain, both given and received. But looking back, putting things in a certain perspective, seeing my life by the light of this bright new Sun, I realise I don't want to change a thing.
Wherever my feet take me is where I'm meant to be, enmeshed and entangled in life's radiant web, surfing the wave of synchronicity every moment of every day, just... being. Borrowing a pretty phrase from Audrey Niffenegger, as long as there is world and time enough, I'm going to keep on keeping on. The ancient alchemists, the wanderers, the seekers, the founders of secret orders, guardians of 'secret' knowledge, were all deluded, misguided, following imaginary trails down paths leading nowhere. Every place on this planet is the center of all things. The cup that holds the water of life, the place from where everything begins. The origin.
Stop where you are, empty your mind of all conscious thought, close your eyes, and listen. Can you hear it? Can you hear the sea? From deep within the chambers of your heart, the distant echo of all that could have been, all that is, and all that will be. Like a wave crashing through time and space, swirling all around you, all the time. We're adrift on a sea of choices, an ocean of infinite possibilities, and though we can barely begin to comprehend the sheer depth of meaning behind it all, the important thing is, we can try. Come, ride the waves with me. All you have to do is let go.
...and beneath my feet, over my head, in the spaces between my ears, the waves are crashing, crashing.