With everything turning yellow and brown in this blistering summer heat in Nagpur, the best option is to find some shade. In two days I’ve learnt to sympathise with everything that goes into a blast furnace. The stark, dryness of this place is made a little tolerable by the vast spaces of nomansland in the vicinity. This is not just the center of India, it is the center of nothingness. From here, you can see the new-ish cricket ground (perhaps the best in the country) and also the continuous movement of trains behind it. There is a newspaper office a few yards away and a semi-busy highway a some more away.
I had noticed in a few minutes that some red buses stopped at the highway and make a u-turn to wait for passengers. I guessed they were going to the city. They seemed to turn up at regular intervals. I waited for it to get cooler, at least statistically, and set out when I saw one such bus. Which was indeed going to the city. Some clouds hung around like policemen watching a mass brawl. It made no difference to the weather. It stayed just as hot.
There aren’t many things you’d do in Nagpur on a free day. If you have the wheels, you can travel towards the borders to see some wildlife. You can take a picture of yourself with the underwhelming center-of-India monument, Zero Mile. You can go to Haldirams and buy sweets. Or, if you like to buy used books, you can go straight to the end of the second flyover before the Zero Mile and shop for fun. These second-hand book hawkers keep plenty of college and school texts. There are also plenty of Sidney Sheldons and Dean Koontz. But if you look carefully, you’d find a Midnight’s Children. Oh, but that’s a pirated version. You look more closely, you’d find Alberto Moravia’s book about the life of a married couple. I don’t want it. If you’d only looked less closely, you’d have found The Best of Satyajit Ray. I did find it and the guy asked for 150.
“Too much for an old book.”
“But it is 250 originally, look.”
“It still is too old.”
“For how much do you want it?”
I hang around a while and hand him a hundred. “Baaaawwws. Only 100?” “That’s it, yes.”
I still walk out knowing very well that I’ve just overpaid.
A few paces ahead, there was one more such hawker. He seemed to have just met a guy who sold him all his Albert Camuses and Henry Millers. I get Tropic of Capricorn and A Devil in Paradise, with Exile and the Kingdom and The Outsider for 150. I’m pretty sure this was a better deal of the two. And to make sure that none of these will go unread, straight into the shelf, I’ve already read Devil in Paradise before.
To make my buying progressively satisfying, I found a treasure trove of Hindi pulp. Have to admit, I’ve only seen them in railway stations and with friends in college, but never got around reading any. I browsed through some of the titles and saw, “James Bond in Budapest – 2”. This raised a scent. There has to be a first part to it and the second part only got made because the first part was a hit. So I searched through and found “Operation Budapest”. I paid more than what was on the cover, perhaps a personal first.
Here’s how the first few lines of this Surendra Mohan Pathak-book go:
The telephone in the other room rang.
In the bedroom, James Bond heard it. He tried getting up from the bed but the girl’s naked arms hung onto his neck in a strong embrace.
The phone kept ringing.
“Honey,” said James Bond. “The telephone…”
The rest of the words stayed in his mouth. The girl kissed him with her rosy lips and stopped him from talking. She clung onto him in an even stronger embrace. In his present state, James Bond thought it better to ignore the telephone.
On my way back, in the bus-stop, three policemen were discussing whether they should get into the crowded bus or not. I only later realised they had arrested two guys whose hands they’d tied with rope. Before I could get my phone to work like a camera, the bus had left.