Being a Woman
Just like that, without fanfare or trumpets, without drumrolls or red carpets, without any warning whatsoever, I stumbled upon my own piece of heaven. No glittering diamonds or massive treasure chests greeted me, just loads and loads of books. The place in question was a bookstore called Literati hidden in the by lanes of Goa. Calling it a mere bookstore is almost blasphemous so I would call it a Book lover’s Haven!I chanced upon this beauty on a recent family trip to Goa; just the four of us – Mr.A, my teen, the lil one and self. We had hired a car and with the help of trusty Google Maps, trundled up and down the breadth of Goa. We wandered into ancient houses, soaked up the amazing genius of Mario Miranda and ate like we were never fed at home. All that of course will be dealt with in another post.
Coming to our encounter with Literati, it started very innocuously. While reading up on Goa, Mr.A saw a passing mention of a book café called Literati in Calangute. Since it combined two of our passions viz books and food, we resolved to make a visit there. Even my lil one, who is neither a foodie nor a voracious reader, got carried away on the waves of our enthusiasm. Ms.Fonseca (that’s what we called google maps !)performed marvelously and delivered us without any mishaps right up to the signboard. The unassuming sign dampened our enthusiasm a bit cos it was very unassuming. It was like a shy child trying to blend into the background or behind her mother’s sari. Mr.A gamely exited the vehicle and went exploring. All we could see was a small sandy parking lot and parts of an old whitewashed house behind trees and thick foliage. I was sure that we were going to be disappointed and all we would see would be a couple of wooden chairs and tables and a small sad shelf of books in a corner. The first sign that it was not all bad was Mr.A hotfooting it back with a grin on his face. He smiled enigmatically and said ’You’ll like it.’ Not the most enthusiastic of one-liners, but still my vision now had a couple more of bookshelves in the corner. Anyway we clambered out without much enthusiasm, eager to get it over with and move on to lunch. We ventured down the stone path that vanished round a bend. The garden was wild and beautiful and quite soothing with its huge trees and unruly foliage. The path took us to an old colonial house which would have been a beauty at one time. Now it was weathered around the edges but still standing gamely. A tiny verandah greeted us with a couple of chairs in a corner.The sign outside which notified visitors of a wheelchair friendly alternate entrance warmed my heart but the next board which requested us to take off footwear before entering was not well received. Grumbling under my breath I shuffled in and – I was lost.Was I dreaming or had I wandered into a bibliophile’s dream?
The first impression in the room was one of warmth and acceptance. Tall wooden bookshelves stood against the walls, laden with books. A beautiful crimson rug on the floor and two comfortable couches added to the cosiness of the room. There wasn’t a single coffe mug or key chain or the countless other paraphernalia you find in other bookshops, to detract from the focus on books. Literati was unapologetic in it’s worship of books.I felt my mind relaxing and just letting go. It was a beautiful feeling of acceptance and comfort. I stood rooted on the spot just drinking in the ambience, inhaling the smell of paper, letting the words hovering in the air sink into me. I have been to countless book stores that were in turns warm, swanky, slick and many other things. Nowhere have I felt this sense of oneness with the place. Mr.A looked quite bemused by my catatonic state. I was just looking all around with a goofy grin on my face. He quietly shepherded the kids to the books so that I wouldn’t be disturbed. Later after I came down from my book-induced haze, I noticed a slim bespectacled girl behind a wooden desk in a corner. She was in charge. I think she was used to such strange behavior because she just smiled gently at me and went back to whatever she was doing. A perfect person to run a bookstore, non-intrusive yet friendly.
I spotted a smaller room to one side that held second-hand books. I made a beeline for the books there. The yellowed pages of second-hand books have always fascinated me. The small room had a huge round table in the middle that was perfect for reading. There was also a section dedicated to books in foreign languages. Imagine my utter delight when I found some old Mills & Boon novels, which took me back to my college days. As I was browsing the weathered books, in padded a huge friendly Labrador. He had come in from the section of the house where the owner resided. After quietly wandering around for some time, he quietly vanished back into the interior of the house. After browsing around among the old and not so old books, I wandered back into the cool hall housing the new books and lost all sense of time browsing the eclectic collection of books. Mr. A left me to my madness and ordered iced tea and lunch for us. (It was only much later, as I was trying to find information about this magical place, that I came to know that the café is open only from October to March. The outside garden is used for al fresco meals.)
I loved the fact that even though there’s a broad categorization of books it was not too regimented. Kathryn Stockett’s ‘ The Help’ nestled snugly next to Ayn Rand. There’s a beautiful balance between fiction and non-fiction with neither gaining ascendancy over the other. I must mention that I’ve yet to see so many works of Nikos Kazantsakis and Ernest Hemingway in a book shop. We spent a marvelous couple of hours among the books. All four of us found something of interest and we took our leave from the helpful Savia with heavy bags of books and even heavier hearts. Savia invited us to come over and spend time there even if we weren’t planning on buying anything. What a refreshing attitude ! We were quiet on the way back, savouring memories of the literary oasis we’d just visited, aptly named Literati.
(The owner of this delightful place is Divya Kapur, who gave up her career as a lawyer to follow her passion. She set up Literati in 2005, in a 100 year old house with Portuguese origins. It has evolved into a meeting place for the book lovers of Goa. Book readings, launches and even documentary screenings take place here. Divya Kapur also runs a mobile library called Bebook, for children from under-privileged backgrounds. The library’s mascot is a frog, which in the Konkani language is called Bebok)