Memories tend to fade over time. However, not all.
Some of them tend to remain firmly etched in one’s mind despite the passage of time.
Flashback to year 1977. I was a greenhorn Junior Officer in the NDDB,occupying Flat-D/26 at NDDB Campus in Anand.
I had tried the nuptial knot the previous year. During those days Anand was essentially a one horse town, despite the presence of Amul, a host of educational institutions and some industries. But its proximity to Baroda and Ahmedabad was a major blessing. During weekends, many of us who used to stay in the campus used to make day long trips to the two cities for shopping,entertainment or simply to drive away monotony.
During an extended weekend in April that year, I travelled to Ahmedabad along with my boss Geeta (Yeah! I am a self confessed male chauvinistic pig!) and ended up in a small, newly opened book store in the Navrangpura area of the city.
The intention was to simply while away the time and glance around the book shelves. At that point of time buying any books was far away from the mind of any of us.
Moreover,we did not expect to find anything of interest in smallish shop tucked away in a corner. But surprise,surprise!
Our eyes spotted a large collection of neatly arranged books by the Scottish doctor turned novelist A.J.Cronin.
The sightings of these books in an unexpected place created palpable excitement in us. Along with Neville Shute and P.G.Wodehouse , Cronin was one of our favorite authors.
Though we had read many of his books earlier, making a collection of his works had always been a dream of ours.
Needless to say, we desperately wanted to lay our hands on them. A minor hitch though! With a princely monthly salary of around Rs. 650 /- Cronin was simply sour grapes.
Cursing myself for not being a Tata or Sarabhai –the Ambanis were still in their ascent– or not being able to pocket a higher pay, I casually mentioned our predicament to Pankaj Bhai, the mild manners and middle aged owner of the book store. We got into a small chat in me broken Hindi and he came to know that we are Anand based and work for the NDDB.
In the meanwhile, I also watched him go to a corner of the shop and talk to his assistant. I had no clue about the subject matter of their exchange in Gujarati. However, very soon we came to know the subject matter of their little private chat.
A few minutes later, as we were about to leave the store without making any purchases, Pankaj Bhai handed over a largish package to my wife and said in chaste Gujarati : “This contains some of Cronin’s novels which I have. Don’t worry about the money. Pay me when your husband has sufficient money”.
Imagine, that was our first visit to Pankaj Bhai’s little book store and we had never met or known him earlier. After getting back to Anand, we eagerly opened the package and counted 16 novels authored by Cronin, costing Rs. 460/-
Fortunately, we were able to pay off the full amount the very next month on receipt of my salary.Our relationship endured even after we left Anand and moved on to Delhi and subsequently to Bombay.But,in subsequent years ,life in Bombay took a heavy toll in terms of time and we lost contact.
In 2019,while in Ahmedabad for a day, we tried to visit the book store and searched Navrangpura with the hope of locating the quaint little store. But, it turned out to be futile. In four decades the area had changed beyond recognition and we had to retreat !