Cherished cover point position

Updated: Apr 09, 2020, 07:23 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Coronavirus-caused lockdown means scavenging for old books and magazines is out of the question, but it gives us an opportunity to appreciate better the great, yellowing finds from the pavements

Some gems from the writer's books and magazines collection. Pic/Clayton Murzello
Some gems from the writer's books and magazines collection. Pic/Clayton Murzello

Clayton MurzelloLockdown for me is staying home and working. And when not working, flipping through old books and magazines; more of the latter because of their superior pictorial value and charm.

But inevitably, the outdoors beckon and visiting old books and magazines stores is what I miss most. It's a habit that has not worn off, ever since I crossed double figures.

So, I sat back yesterday and thought about all the 'great' catches, and 'victories' I plucked out from those fascinating establishments we call raddiwallas and circulating libraries.

My earliest memory is that of an 11-year-old visiting a Prabhadevi raddiwalla in the hope of the owner letting me check if any one pile of magazines that I spotted, contained issues of Sportsweek, Sportsworld, Cricket Quarterly or World of Cricket. I was rarely given that liberty but I wouldn't have afforded any of those issues anyway.

I remember once spotting a publication called World Cricket Digest whose red cover had the Pakistanis celebrating the wicket of India captain Bishan Singh Bedi to win the second Test in 1978-79. There was also an issue with David Gower on the cover. It must have been a cheap buy and that's how I brought home the Gower issue.

Amidst the magazines at the raddiwalla was a bunch of Playfair Cricket Annuals, published in the 1960s before they were made pocket-sized in the 1970s. The magazine stall owner urged me to purchase the Playfairs but I was not keen, primarily because the era was not in my sphere of interest then. Nothing could tempt me and the similar, non-pictorial covers for each year put me off.

However, over the years I came to accept how valuable and informative each of those issues were, especially after one July evening in 1994 when I got off the train at Vile Parle (West) and walked straight to my friendly raddiwalla near the famous khau gulli. He pulled out a 1961 edition of Playfair annual, took Rs five in exchange and I headed home only to discover that the annual had autographs of England's pace great Fred Trueman, batsman Geoff Pullar and wicketkeeper Jim Parks in a team picture for the 1960 England v South Africa Test at Edgbaston. Further down on page 121, there was a signed photograph of Pakistani Javed Burki, who played for Oxford alongside MAK Pataudi and Abbas Ali Baig.

The Playfair incident very nearly didn't teach me a lesson. A scrap dealer on LJ Road, Matunga also had a few magazines and books. On every visit, the man amidst old radio sets, magazines placed on a string and aluminium utensils, would show me a copy of The Hindu's tour brochure for the 1974-75 India v West Indies series. I had seen it before and it never occurred to me that I should buy one. One overcast August day in 1990, however, I decided to buy it just to please the persuasive scrap dealer. Rs five was all he wanted. I carried the souvenir home and it didn't take long to be stunned when I reached the player profiles of Clive Lloyd's West Indies team. Each photograph was signed — from Leonard Baichan to Elquemedo Willett — save Gordon Greenidge. Three from that great side are no more — Keith Boyce, Roy Fredericks and Arthur Barrett. I don't see the wiry man at the shop anymore but I keep thanking him.

Sellers of old magazines come in all types. Some of them are very unhelpful and moody. A few of them are genial enough to go out of the way to keep special issues for you. I have experienced all kinds including one with a hearing and speech impairment at Dadar. I needed special communications skills to explain to him that I wanted him to upset the near-ceiling high pile of Illustrated Weekly of India issues to find that one issue which previewed the 1979 World Cup. I went purely on gut and I found it towards the bottom of the pile.

Dhirajbhai, an old books and magazines seller on Gokhale Road (North) in Dadar, must rank as one of the most good-hearted ones. I can't recollect whether it was he who sold me a copy of Berry Sarbadhikary's My World of Cricket or was it the gentleman who manned the now-shut New and Secondhand Bookshop in Kalbadevi. But the copy which I have, is an inscribed gift from the author, the famous cricket writer and commentator, to a Mr Banerjee for Dussehra in 1965. By the end of 1976, Sarbadhikary was lost to the cricket world, having committed suicide in Mumbai.

Rohan Kanhai's Blasting for Runs is another book I bought from a raddiwalla. When I took the autobiography to Kanhai for an inscription during the India v West Indies Mumbai Test in 1994 (when he was coach of Courtney Walsh's side), he willingly agreed to sign it but wanted to know how I managed to get a copy. "Lock it up, lock it up," he told me as I made my way back to the press box from the dressing room area of the Wankhede Stadium.

Scavenging old books and magazines don't reap rich rewards for me as they used to but a signed copy of Geoff Boycott's 21 years of Yorkshire cricket was most satisfying to find, as were the inaugural issues of Bombay and Gentleman magazines. Also, the autographed copy of Sir Garfield Sobers's Twenty Years at the Top, sold to me by a friendly bookseller at King's Circle, another good haunt, introduced to me by popular caricaturist Austin Coutinho.

Old books and magazine booksellers with the most modest of spaces are no less dispensers of knowledge. And we ought to give thanks to them as we flip through the pages. Come to think of it, the printed word on fading, yellow pages could easily be one of the best things we have during this lockdown.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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