Amin has become a spokesperson for the booksellers, licensed and otherwise. He helped create the Mumbai Booksellers Association, a trade group that has protested and started a petition drive to attract public and political support. (They put up placards with such questions as “Are books polluting? Are books a menace?”) The delays to select a specific book-hawking zone may even be a strategy to defeat the industry, he says. “There will be very few booksellers left by the time the government finds us a new place,” he said. “We have a Fashion Street – why not a Book Street?”
I like the little bureaucratic detail about the reduction in fines on account of the nature of the material, so to speak:
The municipal group did originally impose a standard penalty of 300,000 Rs (£3,900) for the return of the confiscated goods last summer, he says, but the fine was later reduced to 28,000 Rs (£387) because of the “intellectual nature” of the seized property.
In a real bookshop, the price of each volume is written in pencil on the fly leaf. A slight mustiness is de rigueur. If you purchase three or more books and point out some dilapidation in one, a discount may graciously be awarded.
What has so far been described is the idyllic situation where the bookshop owner is congenial. Yet it is a profession that notoriously attracts eccentrics. This was forensically documented in the sporadic series Drif’s Guide to the Secondhand and Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain, last published in 1995. Drif briefly expounded his philosophy: “In wine bars they have a happy hour – the secondhand bookshop equivalent is different, it’s called the surly hour and it lasts all day.”