College days are wonderful. We are young, fresh and out in the world by ourselves for the first time. From making sandwiches out of chips to stocking up on water from the fire hoses during water cuts, we celebrated many moments of joy and laughter. I can’t help but smile at the memory of those days. With all the fun times comes the downside of being on a tight budget as well.
We live that period of our lives on shoe-string budgets. And it was fun too. There are many tales of Jugaad (the quintessential Indian innovativeness) and low-budget hacks, tips and tricks of day-to-day tasks. One tale of Jugaad was buying books on a budget, the opportunities, challenges and some great finds too.
One habit I cultivated in college was reading. And I mean I turned into a real bibliophile book maniac in those years. This was mainly because there was no TV and the avenues of entertainment were extremely limited.
But I didn’t have a lot many options in fiction available at the time. The library had a few good books but not enough really. I remember reading The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King from the library, the dogeared Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and The 10 lb Penalty by Dick Francis. But that’s where the options ran out.
I had my eye on The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice. Even read a few pages in the library. But it disappeared the day I decided to borrow it. Somehow, this is still on my TBR list.
The Book Vendor
One day, I happened to see a man standing on the footpath a few meters out of the college premises with a small square cloth studded with colourful gems. At least that’s what the book covers looked like to me at the time – A gemstone studded magic carpet that could take me to so many different places around the world.
He was the saviour of a story-parched soul.
His collection of 25 to 30 odd books seemed like a library to me.
And these were second-hand used books so they were all at a marked-down price.
I remember picking up each one and getting way too excited, unable to decide which one I could take. To me, the yellowed pages looked like gold, the words and letters like obsidian. The battered, worn-down covers seemed like recently mined precious stones and crystals.
Unfortunately, my budget didn’t allow me to buy them all. And, the vendor was selling based on the thickness of the books. So a thin book was Rs. 25 while a thicker one was Rs. 50 and the thickest was Rs. 150. It was the day I actually was buying my books on a budget.
These are what I decided to buy that day:
- Cry the beloved country by Alan Paton
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
- Tamas by Bhisam Sahani
I thanked the vendor profusely and just couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear all the way back. My roommates noticed the obvious glee on my face and gathered around. When I revealed my latest treasure from my bag, there was eye-rolling and “Ahhhh, only YOU can get soooo excited over old, tattered books”. Well, one of them was a bookworm like me and just congratulated me and asked if she could borrow my books.
Of course, I began reading my new books and finished them rather too soon. I was not yet familiar with the delicate art of savouring each page, every notion, every character and story arc in a book. Thinking back on it now,
I rather read like a barbarian, just hungry to devour from cover to cover.
I did look forward to buying more books from that vendor. Unfortunately, it was a one-time event. I never saw him or his magic carpet ever again. He disappeared just as he had magically appeared.
But I learned one thing from this experience. You can find some great used books that are just as amazing as they were in their Halcyon days. Sure, it may not have those eggshell white pages, the new book smell or bright-coloured covers. But they are in no way diminished when it comes to the story, the experience and the journey.
Buying Books on a Budget
I also learned to look for books in old paper marts or as we call them, raddiwalas, and did unearth oh so many treasures. Although I started reading books in my later teen years, I did it voraciously. I would look for books from my mother’s old collection, borrow books from friends, and even buy a 2nd copy or duplicate books from traffic signal vendors. (Warning: some of the books would have several blank pages). To feed this hobby (I would call it an addiction) of mine, I had to keep a tight watch on my budget and always bring down the numbers in my TBR list. This was actually a win-win solution because I didn’t turn into a book hoarder as most book readers do.
In the paper marts, I discovered that they usually had a good collection of children’s books; books that other children had outgrown. I would often shop for these books for my cousins and kid brother. I particularly remember a book about how the winner of a yawning contest would keep yawning and swallow a myriad of animals and characters whole. Whenever we read it to the kids, we would all yawn gloriously.
But that’s another story.
Have you ever bought books from street-side vendors? Tell us about it.