Farewell to the Family Bookshop II – A Death in The Family

A continuation of my previous post on the Family Bookshop (link), here is the digest of my conversation with the elderly proprietor, Mr. J. Sahni, in short story form.



A Death in The Family

“Nobody remembers anyone, nobody will remember”, said the elderly bookstore keeper, J. Sahni,  a lifetime of melancholy evident in his tired voice, as his tired eyes surveyed the dwindling contents of the shelves within his bookstore.

 “I remember”, I told him as I turned around to converse with him, bargain books in hand, “I will make them remember”.

“I can recall how right in front of you there was a music shop, with a saxophone in the display, how down the street there used to be a another bookstore around the corner, across from where Chicken Tikka used to be…”.

A smile made its way across his bearded face, his eyes warming up as he said, “yes, many a time I ate at Chicken Tikka, and took my children to Hardees”.

We reminisced together for a while, remembering how things were, and sadly, how they turned out to be in the end.

In our conversation, we both had agreed that the area where the Family Bookshop stands now should have been preserved as a cultural heritage, for it is truly symbolic of the beauty of simplicity. However, people are not driven by sentimentality, the major driving factor now is greed, and capitalistic, profitable tendencies overshadow sentimentalities.

“30 or 40 years of my life I spent here, what do I have to show for it?” he asked aloud, his question diffusing into the room, absorbed into the surrounding books as it was more rhetoric than quizzical.

“What do you have to show for your stay in the Gulf? You walk in the streets and police ask you for your Civil ID, there is no difference between you as a legal and any illegal”, he confessed, the strain of years of hardship having taken their toll on him.

I wanted to tell him different, however, I could find no answer, nothing I could say could possibly placate him, for in my heart I knew it was true as well. Kuwait is where we have lived our entire lives, but it is not home. Realization started to set in, thoughts I had pushed to the back of my mind came to the forefront.

The atmosphere inside the bookshop was growing as cold as the howling winds outside. The pregnant silence was broken when he asked me about my work, what I do. Given that my profession is not readily known, I described it as close to accountancy. After all, why would this old shop keeper know of a profession such as audit?

He asked if I was bettering myself in terms of education, as a fallow mind is a grave danger in this age of continuous improvement.

Much to my surprise, he explained to me that he was a Chartered Accountant, class of 1975. The Chartered Accountancy exam is a grueling test of knowledge that only the elite are able to overcome, out of thousands that apply, less than 10 will attain it in any given year. To my utter amazement, not only was he a CA, he also held positions in every major bank in Kuwait at one point in time, a senior position in my profession.

Pressure, stress and burnout had been the contributing factors that made Mr. J. Sanhi decide that it was time to pursue a less hectic life, away from the financial statements and audit reports. However, life in the book business also had its difficulties, time away from home and the family.

“I was robbed of my youth”, he quietly lamented; working in the bookstore, at times for the entire night, only going home in the morning to shower and rest.

He stressed upon me the importance of not staying in one place for too long. When I told him that I was merely establishing my beginning here, as it is a good place to start and make a nest-egg for the future, he angrily yelled out, “No! Greed will take over you. No one stays for a short period, if you make 1,000KD you will want 2, if you make 2 you will want 4. This discussion is over. It is different from one person to the other”.

He inquired whether I was satisfied, if I have any plans to leave Kuwait, and asked if I had a business card. I presented him with it.

I informed him that it was indeed my desire to one day make my way out of Kuwait, and start a life elsewhere.

“You should do it now when you are young. You should not depend on anyone, not your parents. You should live your life, for yourself, away from here. Go out, take chances, explore”, his advice raining down upon me like a monsoon, his experience in life displayed in the forefront of his words.

“Did you go to NES?” He inquired. I was speechless, how did this old man deduce that I had gone to that school? It had been almost a decade since I graduated from there. Amazing.

Then I realized. I was, for the first time since buying them, wearing the sports sweats with the school emblem emblazoned on them.

He asked me where I wanted to go, stating that the USA, UK and Canada are slowly, but surely closing their doors. How there was no real future in the Gulf or Middle East. We talked about the emerging powers, I told him of my trip to India. Of how China is the place to be right now, as it is solely responsible for over 50% of global container trade.

“I always wanted to go to Russia and work there, but I do not know the language, and I think it is essential to learn beforehand”, I replied, “also, it is one of the BRIC nations, soon to be an economic power house along with Brazil, India and China.”

“Why don’t you learn Russian?” he inquired thoughtfully. I thought about this and said, well yes, I should.

“What about Mandarin?” he asked again. He called his assistant to check on whether they had linguistics books downstairs. They did, he brought me two packages, with cassette tapes, a nostalgic technology in its own right.

“Learn, and leave.”

Whilst waiting for the linguistics books to arrive, I spotted a Bridal Book behind him, and thought what a great gift that would make for my Fiancée. We talked about her for a while, and the plans I had for the both of us.

I ended up paying more than I had initially expected, but it was worthwhile, if I were being charged for the worth of the knowledge I picked up, both aurally and reading, then the transaction was heavily skewed in my favor.

a gift for my lovely wife-to-be, reading material for me, and the future

a gift for my lovely wife-to-be, reading material for me, and the future

Eventually, the land where the Family Bookshop once stood shall be razed, a megamall or complex bound to replace it. 2, 5, 10 years down the line, people might stand at that street corner and remember, here once stood The Family Bookshop, inserting their own anecdote, their own special memories, and remembering that it was the brain child of Mr. J. Sahni, and he shall be remembered as well.

I ask anyone who values the treasures buried within the pages of books to pay a visit to the Family Book Shop now, before it is too late, if you have stories to share from your past of your experiences there, do share them with this kind, elderly proprietor, who gave me so much in so little time.

Mr. Sahni, we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for those memories, memories that will never die, even after the shop is gone.

August 2011 ( View complete archive page )

September 2011 ( View complete archive page )

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