College Street

Here, into a pair of cupped hands,
fortunes will tumble, practically meet
from crore after crore of words on stands.
You know where I mean, in College Street.

Past the university’s walls
the going is soon less ordered and neat,
yet more inviting, with bran-tub-type stalls . . .
I’m lost in the lottery of College Street.

The World and Human Creativity
announces a title I’d rather have missed.
A volume on Semiconductor Theory
strangely close to Oliver Twist;

a copy of Aristotle’s Physics
slammed on top of The Three Musketeers;
a massive shelf-buster on Orthopaedics;
Everyone’s Book of Classic Cars . . .

Here, on the battered dark wood of tables,
in old trunks (nobody knows how old),
you can see, in a copy of Aesop’s Fables,
the alchemy that turns print to gold.

Now some, like as not, will deliver a lecture:
“The stalls are tenth-rate, the owners are crooks – ”
but some will see an afternoon’s picture.
Iron railings, and trees in the pavement, and books . . .

string-ropes, like washing-lines, hung with pamphlets,
stall-owners asleep – and myriads of selves
that festoon Time with pen-scratching efforts –
a weight of learning that bows the shelves.

Feel in the mood for a quick-flip thriller?
Double Shuffle by James Hadley Chase.
Feeling ill? This may make you iller:
A Notion of Time in a Grammar of Space.

On the lookout for something vital?
Eat from Nature (you should devour it).
What about this for a promising title?
The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot.

Here’s a new book by Thomas Hardy,
Notes on Under the Greenwood Tree.
Superman comics in Bengali
are more use educationally.

Last-Minute Probable Questions on Science
stops the Hardy from feeling lonely.
Here’s another “non-book appliance”:
Candida by G.B.Shaw. Notes Only.

But then Letters for all Occasions
takes the mind where it wants to go –
definitely not to Industrial Relations
or The Pageant of Jute – a little slow.

Who will carry away these millstones?
Where do they come from, so faded, unloved?
(Perhaps they develop unseen, like gallstones,
soon to be surgically removed.)

Yet one man’s meat is another man’s poison –
and now that I have a few savouries
to taste from this gourmet’s shopping-occasion –
where shall I go to sample these?

Where else but a time-honoured talking-inferno
(an appeal for Silence mute on its walls),
a vastness that knows no door, no window,
a throb of tables, a Hall of halls,

where else, to wait till a waiter budges,
to sip a coffee, to start to browse,
to see chapter-headings, to turn a few pages –
where else but India Coffee House?

Then back down the road of knockabout Fortune
where Creation still seems to jostle in the stands,
perhaps to consider a further selection,
let a here-and-there wealth again enter the hands . . .

If I’ve gone without saying where I’m going,
returned bemused and bewildered, to bleat
of marvellous mix-ups, a world’s fortune flowing . . . 
you’ll know where I’ve been, in College Street!

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