The Sunday Statesman, October 23, 1983
By Nergis Dalal
IT’S A LITTLE HAUNT UNLIKE ANY OTHER YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN TO – INSIDE YOU FIND MYSTERIES, MAGIC, MANTRAS AND MUCH ELSE THAT’S NOT TO BE FOUND UNDER ONE ROOF ELSEWHERE.
It is a book shop unlike any other you might have been to. Right at the entrance, a blonde girl browses through Tarot packs, those mysterious packs when spread in a particular way are reputed to have strange and wonderful powers, helping to interpret one’s fate and the future. Presently, the girl chooses the Waite Ryder pack which can be used not only as a means of deviation but also for enlightening daily meditation. The price is high, but she seems happy with her find. Next to her stand three young men, long-haired and bearded, poring over books on Tantra, the I-Ching and Zen. Another looks longingly at something I have never seen before – a pack of I-Ching Cards. All 64 hexagrams are here and three pretty gold coins to throw.
We are inside Piccadilly Book Stall at Shankar Market in the heart of New Delhi. Literally a shop with a difference, it deals only with mystic and occult books and related subjects. There are books here on Yoga, Buddhism, Vedanta, Hindu Philosophy, Sufism, Magic, and Astrology. Aficionados in search of books on Samadhi, on Mantras or Tao Te Ching; on the Dhammapada; or the Bhagavad Gita; on transcendental meditation or the Zen Doctrine of No-Mind will find them all here. Gurdjieff and Blavatsky lie side by side. Sai Baba, Muktananda, Krishnamurthi, Ramana Maharishi and Shivananda jostle with one another for space. Here are all Castaneda’s books on the Yaqui Indian, Don-Juan books, which, though bestsellers have created much controversy about the veracity of teachings and evenwhether Don Juan exists at all. Here also is Peter Mathiessen’s Snow Leopard, a book ostensibly about the author’s quest for this elusive animal, but in reality a book about his inner journey in search of the Self. One of the most fascinating and beautiful books I have even read.
For those who are today looking beyond the world of illusion, for the real world and the real Self, this shop is one step on the upward path.
The present owner inherited the shop from his elder brother in 1957. Since then he has expanded his stock and sought out esoteric books on every aspect of religion, mysticism, and occult. Seekers of the Self’s true nature return again and again to look for a particular title, see what’s new in the field, and browse through piles of fascinating material. Among the visitors has been Mrs. Indira Gandhi who bought a book on Mantras, those mystical sounds which cause subtle vibrations in the higher centers of the mind. The owner produces a signed photograph of the Prime Minister to substantiate his claim.
The shop itself is small and packed tightly with books which spill over on to the pavement outside. Inside, it is strictly one-way traffic. The passage is narrow and books are piled precariously high on either side. It needs a slim and agile person to negotiate his way to the dark recesses inside.
No one could possibly live surrounded by such books without something of the aura, the knowledge, rubbing off on him. The owner is knowledgeable and helpful. The client is welcome to browse, to turn the pages, even to sit and read halfway through a whole book if need be. There is no hurry, and time as such does not exist. There is an air of tranquility here around books which expound the great cosmic principles of unity, harmony, and understanding.
Though there are no current bestsellers displayed here, many of the books are bestsellers in their own right. The Snow Leopard alone sold over a million copies and the Don Juan books by Carlos Castaneda sold more copies than the sexiest thriller on the market.
Customers to this shop all share a common interest. No one looking for Scruples or Fear of Flying will venture here. This is only for those who have a appointment with the world of mystery and magic. As I examine a new edition of Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, I am interrupted by a voice behind me: “Do you believe that I-Ching predictions come true?” I turn. A young man with dark, burning eyes is regarding me earnestly. “That depends”, I say, “on your interpretation of the oracles and the degree of your concentration when you put your question”.
He looks somewhat crestfallen. “Perhaps I didn’t concentrate sufficiently, but I have had disastrous results”.
The blonde girl who had bought the Tarot cards proffers them for inspection and the pack slithers out of her hands and scatters all over the pavement. The 15th card of the Major Arcana lands at her feet – the Devil! It is a macabre figure with ram’s horns and a five-pointed star on his forehead, the personification of the demoniac powers which are present within the substratum of human consciousness.
The girl gives out a frightened scream: “Oh! I don’t like that. It is unlucky”. We help her gather up the cards and I reassure her: The Devil is only a symbol of our lower natures, the destructive element of consciousness which all humans must chain or tame. She flashes me a smile and disappears into the traffic.
I pick up a copy of the Gita by Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda. It costs just five rupees, a refreshing range from the prices of other books, all in the seventies and eighties. “But you spend so much on food.”, the owner says. “A book is forever”. It is true of course, but the strange thing about these books is that they are as addictive as opium. You buy one and then you want another and another, and as your search takes you deeper, beyond the surface realities to what lies underneath, you are properly hooked forever. The search for the Self becomes a luminous journey into the compelling pilgrimage which one takes step by step in the company of the great minds who act as guides and counselors along the way.
Buyers of the books are not from the capital alone. They come from places as far afield as Bombay, Calcutta, Baroda and Madras. An elderly man from Calcutta makes regular trips to this shop because says he, “it is truly unique”.
I too have my list, though already my collection of books of Zen, Yoga, Meditation and the I-Ching is sizable. Nevertheless my feet are still on the first steps of the journey in which consciousness is turned towards itself and slowed down “as a river may be dammed up and forms a quiet lake until it overflows and moves on again”.
In its own way this shop makes its own contribution to world peace. “The advancement of the human race will come from an increasing number of individuals climbing the mountain path to self-enlightenment. So long as the individual is in tension between the demands of the lower, selfish qualities and the visions of the God within, so long will that individual be at war within the project, his inner strife into the world without.”
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