While reading the latest book by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Home in the World-A Memoir, I found an incident or rather an experience of this great economist-researcher-academic-writer-1998 Nobel Prize winner-1999 Bharat Ratna winner, regarding the owner of a book stall he frequented in the 1950s in the famous area of ​​Calcutta university street, then Calcutta. I was captivated to discover that this experience was very similar to my experience as a book stand owner in the 1970s. Well, two mandatory clarifications here: first, I have titled my article not after Sen’s great book, which means this will not be a review, but just a story, and I am still reviewing the book which, in my view, it is of epic proportions, particularly in relation to the history, culture, economy and heritage of Bengal since the pre-partition days; and second, there can be absolutely no conceivable comparison between the living legend and this nonentity, as I said, this is just a story of a resemblance that I find very amusing and interesting.

Amartya Sen (his name ‘Amartya’ was given to him by the legendary Rabindra Nath Tagore), after completing his school education at Tagore’s Santiniketan, whose liberal atmosphere ultimately shaped his thinking (particularly his lifelong decision to work and research to eradicate the stark inequalities and religious division in Indian society, influenced also by the great Bengal famine of 1943 that killed nearly 3 million people, and how to prevent such famines from happening again in the future, which he always considered economically plausible, citing the erroneous policies of the British during World War II), he joined Presidency College in 1951 for his pre-college course (the current standard 11-12) in Calcutta which was under the University of Calcutta. His batchmate was Sukhamoy Chakraborty (1934-1990), one of the greatest economists of all time and who, along with PC Mahalanobis, had been a key architect in formulating India’s Five-Year Plans when he joined the Commission on Planning, after returning to India from his teaching at MIT in the US Later, Sukhamoy Chakraborty was teaching at the Delhi School of Economics as a professor of economics and during my postgraduate course (1979-1981) I used to look at him with absolute admiration and amazement, even though he did not take our classes according to my instructions. selected papers. Later, I was very saddened to learn of his untimely death in 1990. As avid economics students, Amartya Sen’s name was well known to us and I believe, but am not sure, that he visited School D sometime during that period. . for a reading. However, we must go back to our story, because once we start talking about those times, it would go on forever.

Both young Amartya and Sukhamoy were obviously serious thinkers and bookworms. His Presidency College was situated in the College Street area of ​​the city and just opposite the college was the legendary Coffee House of Calcutta, where all the Bengali writers and intellectuals had their add as, having endless debates that evolved his thinking, inclinations and writings. This tradition continues even now and all Bengali intellectuals including students of course cannot help but visit Coffee House regularly. I also have the privilege of sitting in that famous indoor environment where, in addition to the add as there are also culinary delights with the inevitable cups of coffee. Outside the cafeteria there are numerous book stalls lining the streets around where books are selling like hot cakes and I would rather call those book vendors as book vendors, because like any other vendor, they also continually call in customers. potentials. to come looking for the book plates, a sight that perhaps cannot be found anywhere in India (in my personal experience, I have never found anything similar anywhere else).

As usual, Amartya and Sukhamoy did not have enough money to buy every new book that hit the stall shelves. Sometimes one of them would buy it and lend it to the other or vice versa. They also started visiting a particular book stall where the owner didn’t seem to mind that they sat there for hours reading their favorite books without making a move to buy them. So this went on, and at a crucial moment, the owner of the book stall made the kindest of gestures, perhaps impressed by the intensity of the young people’s search for knowledge. He offered to lend them the precious books on the condition that the book would take only one night and had to be returned the next day, in its original form and quality. The generous owner of the book stall used to wrap the covers of the books with newspapers for the same purpose. It was a godsend for young scholars and they capitalized on it as much as they could. Amartya Sen also recounts that another customer asked the owner of the book stall how he managed to do business this way. The owner was reported to have responded that if he did not want to run that way, he would have gone into more profitable businesses like selling jewelry. This shows how books are admired and almost worshiped in West Bengal even now.

Now cut to my ‘casual’ part in the story. During my pre-university days also in the 1970s, to be exact during 1975-1977, in a small town called Mangaldoi (now in the Darrang district of Assam) I had been an avid student, greatly aided by a ‘simple life, high thought’. ‘Independent spirited and inspired family atmosphere. My father, a civil service officer and a writer, author and translator, was serving in that city for the second time, and after him the four children, particularly my younger brother and I, were literally bookworms. We had an old bicycle at that time and I used to go every day to Mangaldoi College which was more than two miles from our rented house. We used to get books from the district library, the university library, and other private lending sources. My father, being an honest officer, had to manage his family of six on his limited monthly salary, and therefore there was not enough money to buy new books on the shelves; sometimes he bought and other times we did it saving from our meager pocket money.

I used to frequent a book stand somewhere in my locality to regularly check out new books. I sensed that the old man who owned the book stall had a very kind face and he always smiled at me every time he parked my bike and approached the counter. This perception of him encouraged me to try reading the books at the booth itself: I would usually ask for the book I wanted, retreat to the end of the counter so other customers wouldn’t be harmed, and start devouring the book. book; most of the time I finish the book and return it with a hearty smile; when I don’t finish the book, a voluminous one, from a ‘standing’ I return the next day and ask for the same book before which the generous bookseller never reacts negatively or shows his displeasure. I really relished this divine opportunity to read and read new books without having to shop for months on end in my spare time, particularly on vacation mornings. Of course, whenever I felt a bit guilty, I used to reward the book stall owner a bit by buying him a relatively cheaper book.

These generous book stall owners or vendors or even merchants exist even today I am sure. They are not cutthroat salespeople or competitors; they live their lives and do business with their principles held high. In my stay in Kolkata, I found a merchant who gave me my special items at less than MRP. I was pleasantly surprised and asked how he could afford to do that while most others try to charge even more than MRP under one pretense or another. He just smiles sweetly and says that it’s quite possible if you want to do it that way. We also found some others in Mumbai and Kolkata who give away their vegetables or fruits without paying if we didn’t have change in our pocket, saying with a smile ‘take it sir, where will you go!’ Excellent! I greet you all, as I am sure; the greats of Amartya Sen and Sukhamoy Chakraborty obviously did and do.

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