In dusty store-rooms and poky little second-hand bookshops could lie life-changing tomes waiting to be discovered serendipitously
While buying a car accessory, a friend chanced upon What To Expect: The Toddler Years displayed at a used-book store, next door. Written by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff and Sandee E. Hathaway, this fat book lets parents know what to expect of their toddlers, from the 13th to the 36th month. For my friend, the book could not have come any sooner. His daughter is 13 months old. He gushes about his find, “It is a fount of practical wisdom about parenting; it gives a month-by-month commentary on what to expect during the toddler’s second and third years.”
This book will occupy his book-shelf for long — at least for the next two years. His serendipitous discovery of a book that has come to serve as a source of practical wisdom is by no means unique. Lives have changed, careers have been built and avocations developed, all because someone stopped by to look at a book on a pavement. Or, bothered to look into a dusty and forgotten store-room.
Ten years ago, Mumbai-based Radhakrishan Pillai — author of Corporate Chanakya, a management book that draws upon the nuances of statecraft discussed in Arthashastra and has been translated into 10 regional languages — unexpectedly found a copy of the ancient political treatise by Kautilya. “With some time to kill before a professional engagement, I checked out a book store that stocked works on Indology. There, I found this copy of Arthashastra with its pages yellowing and dog-eared. A discard, the book was given to me for half its price.”
Pillai had no idea how the book would change his career, world view and life. After years of research on Arthashastra, he launched the Chanakya Institute of Public Leadership as part of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Mumbai, in 2007. His book, Corporate Chanakya, prescribed in a few business schools in India and beyond, has been made into an audio book, Chanakya Speaks. Pillai travels extensively to spread his unique management philosophy.
Chennai-based writer-dancer Tulsi Badrinath has had an almost similar life-changing tryst with a book. At a sale, Tulsi’s mother had picked up a copy of The Autobiography Of A Vedic Astrologer by B.V. Raman. Many years later, Tulsi flipped though the book on a day she found nothing else to do. “Until that point, there was no interest in astrology. I did not even have a horoscope done. As I went through this autobiography, I was fascinated with Raman’s accounts of people’s lives. The book drew me into Vedic astrology, and when I finally put it down, I was well on the path towards discovering more about this subject.”
Geoffrey Thomas, radio professional and promoter of music talents, has also been touched by an autobiography, this one by Eric Clapton. A few years ago, Geoffrey found Clapton: The Autobiography in a poky little second-hand book shop — off MG Road, in Bangalore — where magazines and books were piled high almost to the ceiling.
“I was looking for old music magazines, when I found this gem of a book,” says Geoffery, who is impressed with the self-portrayal of a man, who has seen as many lows as highs. It offers lessons in grit. Clapton fought his way out of alcohol and drug addiction. Says Geoffery, “Talent is one thing. Going into a dump and coming out of it, quite another.”