Chandigarh: For the last almost two decades, Mandeep has waited for book lovers for hours sitting under a huge tree, with a bookstand next to him, on Chandigarh-Samrala highway. The owner of the ‘book shop’ which is often described as ‘kitaban wala khokha’ by his regular visitors, Mandeep, who left his studies in BA Part I, has exercised a patrician hold over his subjects. Villagers, few writers, journalists, students and revolutionaries are amongst the visitors who have kept his dream of living in the world of books alive, also providing him livelihood by being regular buyers.
In Punjab, where we usually see nothing other than wine shops on the highways and roads, (few of them lying deserted after Punjab and Haryana High Court’s verdict), the place where you find this book shop will amuse you. It is situated right in the heart of the fields on Chandigarh-Samrala highway, opposite Gurdwara Rinwa Sahib, with a state government-approved dhaba next to it, just few kilometers away from Khamano, a small town. Mandeep, a resident of Khamano, has an old scooter which has been his only friend over the years, other than his customers. “I have always liked to live alone, it keeps me happier inside, and my love for books is the only love of my life. I am not connected to the world apart from those who come to me, they are my only friends and my scooter is my companion. I never feel incomplete, but an intellectual will always feel the hollowness and is being murdered slowly, day-by-day,” he confesses.
However, the table outside the shop, a few old books and some posters which were never sold unveil the darker side of the story. With the passage of time, book reading has not been on the priority list of people and gadgets have taken over the charm of reading books. But Mandeep is unaffected by the fact that he sometimes sells not even a single book in a day. “Villagers have more free time so they read books, people who live in urban areas hardly buy books these days, the trend of book reading has, no doubt, fallen down but I am satisfied with what I sell, I get enough earnings that I arrange livelihood for my family and that’s enough, what else you need?,” he explains. The beauty of this small shop lies in the variety of books available with majority of them being Punjabi literature. Also, the fan following of Arundhati Roy and Tasleema Nasreen help Mandeep fetch readers all the way to his peaceful highway shop.
Himself having a whole lot of stories to tell, he listens to the buyer, becomes friends with them in no time and suggests the nicest of books according to the taste of the readers. “I have developed this quality over the years (laughs), I can read what the reader wants and since I have read almost all of these books, I suggest them accordingly,” he adds. In the last two decades everything changed in the land of panj-aabs. Literature lovers, book readers, intellectuals hid themselves somewhere and a strong wave of drugs and alcohol blew around the highways, in the towns and inside the villages of the state which was known more for its revolutions, religion and culture. In an era where you mostly see wine shops on the outskirts of a town, there is a man who has given everyone hope that all is not lost.
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