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The Bookman

P.ANIMA
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PEOPLE C. Chandradasan, soda maker and book lover, neatly divides his time between his work and his passion

BY THE BOOK WALLC. Chandradasan at his homePHOTO:K . RAGESH
BY THE BOOK WALLC. Chandradasan at his homePHOTO:K . RAGESH

The cemented path remains narrow along the diversion off the busy road to the Tali temple. Young boys whiz past in bicycles and C. Chandradasan’s two-room soda-making unit and house appear without introduction. Forty-nine-year-old Chandradasan steps out, his striped white shirt bearing the stains of a day of soda making. Outside, an M-18 moped waits, stacked with cartons of fresh soda. Leading the way, Chandradasan walks up two storeys from his workplace to his passion – books.

His living-cum-bedroom has books as far and high as the eyes can behold. Books take up an entire wall and one pile stops just inches from the ceiling. Most of the books sit on shelves and racks. The rest are bundled into sacks. The majority are in Malayalam and they come wrapped in plastic covers or cardboard boxes or are held together between fading flaps. Chadradasan doesn’t keep count, “I just put them at about 1,000 and quite a few have been lost along the way,” he smiles through his unruly grey beard.

Buying books with his kind of job has always been tough. But he has managed, he says. “At most of the book shops here they allow me to take a book and say I can pay later.”

Books, Chandradasan believes, are a habit, one that can take shape only if someone in the family is into books. In his case it was his father, also a soda maker. “During the rains there would be no work and he would read to us from old Soviet picture books. Those were the only ones he could afford,” he says. It grew into a habit as he saved 10 and 20 paise from the pocket money his father gave him for lending a hand with the business.

His job of delivering soda took him around the city, first in a hand-driven trolley, then on a bicycle and now on his moped. Between deliveries, he hopped into the Prabhat Book Store of yore to buy his first books, he says. Chandradasan did not study beyond class 10 and English is not his strength, so he relies heavily on translations. But he admits there is often a wide gap between the original and translations and at times he goes through the original just to get the flavour right.

In a collection that ranges from Puranic Encyclopaedia to the diary of Malala Yousafzai, books on science take pride of place. “Science is the way forward,” he says. And his efforts to instil a love of science extend beyond his home. He says he often gathers the children of his neighbourhood, hires a projector and shows them science-related CDs. He also takes an occasional trip to the planetarium with the children.

Chandradasan is a firm believer in passing on what he has learnt and experienced to the next generation. “If I have read a book and liked it, I like the idea of somebody else reading it,” he says. Though borrowers were many, occasions when he never got his books back were not rare either. “It would often end up at the open market,” he smiles. That also prompted him to start a small book lending initiative. “It was more to make sure that the books borrowed are returned. I used to charge 10 per cent of the book price, but would also give it free to those who didn’t have the money,” he says.

Chandradasan has also reprinted some old collections. “From the loan I got to build this house I set aside a small sum to do this.”

The man and his books are well known in the city and he is occasionally called to give a talk about reading in schools, university and libraries. “I also get calls from the libraries looking for books they don’t have.”

P.ANIMA

If I have read a book and liked it, I like the idea of somebody else reading it

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