Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

24 August 2008

The Book-Seller of Shimla

It is impossible to live in Shimla and not be a regular at Minerva. My love affair with this shop began in 1992 when I first stepped into it. Shimla is by no means a book-lovers' delight. There are precisely three bookshops: Asia, Minerva and Maria Brothers. Of these, Maria Brothers is more of an antiquarian establishment requiring deep pockets. Asia to me is a magazine-cum-gift card shop.
This leaves us with the small but delightful Minerva. The intellectual heart of a commercial district. A bibliophile's oasis in a desert land of synthetic ready-made clothes, branded monstrosities and kitschy souvenirs for tourists.
Funny thing is, in all my years of visiting this establishment and chatting with its delightful owners, I must acknowledge that, to this date, I only know them as "Rahul" and "Rahul's father". This is possible because the conversation rarely strays from the topic of books. At worst, it may go into the history of shimla. Or very reticently, that of Minerva. Some insistent questioning reveals that the present owners acquired Minerva in 1972. Rahul's father belongs to a family of grain merchants, but says "his heart wasn't in it". He seems happy as a cricket occupying his vantage point behind the counter, viewing the passing scenery. He is able to climb into the skin of the people who walk into his shop by studying their expression, their clothes, or shoes. He chats you up, asks you questions and listens to your answers carefully.
In a sense, Rahul and his father are great match-makers, for they are able to - more often than not - find the right book for every reader who walks in through Minerva's door. Rahul's father seems to derive particular pleasure in pairing a book with a reader! You will never find him handing a Harry Potter to a matriarch, or a coffee table tome of architecture of the British Raj to the svelte young lady aglitter in (tasteful) baubles.
A good book-seller is a dying breed. Today, we have far too many of those soul-less establishments where staffers dress alike and try to persuade you to buy a book because "it's selling so well, ma'am". Unlike the owner of Minerva, he does not step into your shoes, strap on your shoe-laces and walk that teetering plank of understanding that there is a section, a very small section, of readership which doesn't like to be told that it should books merely because they're selling well! The Minerva people possess this quality in good measure. If only there were some way to foster and preserve this dying art...

1 comment:

puchoo said...

I would not be surprised if you already have this , but since you mentioned Minerva , its one of the few bookshops which carry a print of the book "Shimla - past and present" , a very interesting and comprehensive read , i would recommend it - infact if i remember correctly it is a Minerva publication and difficult to finds elsewhere , but a lovely look back into history.

Related Posts with Thumbnails