Feverish consumption of pop culture

Chennai is a maze for people who don’t know the city. During my college years here, it was maze that I deliriously explored. Shopping is a great experience when you don’t shop at all. When you don’t want to buy anything in particular, but are ready to buy anything for a little money, shopping in the city’s by-lanes and street corners can be rewarding.

The urge to have seen every road in the city drove me on. It mattered little that it took me a good three years to find my way around the city. I struggled to remember the road that took me from T. Nagar to Mount Road, from Central to Poonamalee. Did Shanti Theatre or Devi Complex come first while walking from TVS towards Anna Statue? I never knew.
A mad desire to own books had fired up a need to compulsively look at every secondhand bookstore and library. Back home, English movies were a rarity. Apart from the blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Speed, only James Bond and Jackie Chan had any box-office draw in Nagercoil. Most other movies were dismissed as being too highbrow. So my hunger to consume Western pop culture – its music and cinema – was almost insatiable when I arrived in Chennai.
The first movie I watched was Entrapment. Impressed with the theatre, the crowd and the marketing glitz, but not the movie, I joined my friend in searching for a good second hand bookstore.
Soon there was a ritual that we would follow. Catching a train at Tambaram to Nungabakkam. There is a half-decent bookstore outside the station. Books are in three piles – those for Rs. 10, Rs. 20 and Rs. 30. A few expensive books were kept aside for select customers. Go over those books, bargain for a while, and leave without buying anything. Come back the next week, select 10 books and ask them for half the price he is willing to sell it for. Still don’t buy anything and leave. Pretend you are ‘The Tough Customer’. By your fourth visit, the owner knows you by face. And he will conspire with you in a low tone for a bargain price so that the others don’t hear. Good deal. Get the books and lovingly flip them back in your room.
Then there is the Mount Road circuit. Landmark for the A/C and the experience. The pavement bookshops to buy. I found mostly trash. But once in a while, when I was lucky I found a few gems. I got Animal Farm for Rs 5 once. A copy of the novelisation of 2001: A Space Odyssey for Rs 30. This one came with a few stills from the movie. Good deal again.
Then there is Higginbothams. Another odd shop in Mylapore. The library at Theosophical Society in Adyar. Connemara. Membership at USIS. Later at the British Council Library. The books I flipped through but never read were without number. The movies I watched without catching a line were many before I finally began understanding a bit.
When I finally began earning, the romantic experience of shopping without money was no longer possible. Buying books became an operation that was all too clinical, like a high-precision surgery. The pleasure of pennylessness had gone beyond my grasp forever.

1 Comment so far

  1. david (unregistered) on July 9th, 2006 @ 1:30 pm

    Nandhu you would have loved Moore Market! All those bookshops I was talking about were all second hand book stores where you could get everyhting-from school and college textx to literature, science fiction, action, history….

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.