Fire in a Bookshop

*Note; Play the audio as you read to step into the streets outside the bookshop

After leaving Vrindavan, we arrive in Delhi for a brief transit.  Things are not going according to plan.  We’d intended to leave after a night yet had to stay an extra day.  We’d indeed to go to museums.  All museums are closed on Mondays.  It’s Monday.  We’d intended to go to a bookstore.  

“Hmm Delhi doesn’t really have any good book shops,” says our host, the mother of a college friend.
“Well…” she says, reconsidering, “There’s one small shop that is rather nice. I can drop you off there.”  

I wave as she pulls away in her silver car and I turn to walk into a tiny, hole in the wall bookstore so filled with piles of books that the store itself seems to be made entirely of paper as the very walls are an endless stack of titles.  The only person who seems to have any understanding of the literary land of Oz is the Wizard himself, seated behind a pile of books functioning as a front counter.  

I’d recently been listening to an interview with the writer Pico Iyer and was interested in searching for pearls of inspiration by diving into his travel writing.

“Anything by Iyer,” I told the Wizard.  

He pointed me to a dusty corner where a young employee was bent over shuffling books from one disheveled stack to another with no discernible logic and for no apparent reason.  I walked toward him and, without breaking his rhythm, he gestured with his chin to a shelf with several volumes of Iyer’s work.  I looked over the enchanting titles, musing over which one to peruse first, then felt a thump on my palms.  Silently, still bent over, the young man had excavated a novel by Iyer from the veritable cave of of books surrounding him and placed it in my hands.  

I looked over the title, “Abandon; A Romance,” and immediately glazed over with disinterest.  I was searching for richly evocative, exciting and exotic travel writing, not a fictional novel and certainly not a fluffy romance.  Regardless, I flipped through the pages and landed on the dedication.

Fire is the most tolerable third party
— Thoreau


I cocked my head in curious amusement.  After all, the only reason I’m in India is to ‘study fire,’ whatever that means.  I am reminded of how the Jesuits taught that as God’s children we receive His divine teachings in innumerable ways.  These teachings are ever available to us granted we are willing to open our hearts, willing to hear the whispers in the wind or to notice a sparrow flying through the sunrise or, even, to open the first page of a book placed directly into our hands; to Listen.  

I walked over to the book-pile-counter and paid the Wizard.  I stepped out of the musty stillness of his kingdom and passed through the bustling noise of the street, past the street vendors selling *dahl*, the construction workers squatting on an unfinished sidewalk in front of an unfinished building and through the crowd of auto rickshaw drivers that swarm to foreigners like mosquitos to a hiker.  Eventually I found refuge under a tree in a quaint grassy park of some centuries-old tomb.  Turning to the first page, I opened the book and my spirit, ready to hear whatever it was I was meant to receive within its eloquently written lines.  A few dozen pages in, I was not disappointed. 

“I am reminded of the ancient Sufi tale in which a seeker, knocking at his master’s door, hears the sheikh call out, ‘Who is it?’ ‘It is I, sir, me,’ he responds, and the teacher’s voice calls back, ‘Go away! Where there is an “I,” there can be no true instruction. Come back when you are no one.’”
  - Professor Sefhadi; Abandon

And then I closed the book and let myself drift into irrelevance like a plastic bag carried away by the wind that gently tugged at the low, swaying branches hanging over me, falling into the embrace of the Eternal Present.

BY: Tomás Quiñonez-Riegos