Well, yes. I am talking about books here. Not computer or cookery books or pulp fiction or school books. But fiction and poetry by great minds of our times and travel narratives and biographies and history books and so on. Volumes that really constitute the food for the mind and not the dull fare for the classroom.
Now where do you look for such fare in Bahrain? Of course at the well-lit, well-organised and let us say well-stocked bookshops in the shopping malls of the city and a few outlets elsewhere. Jashanmals, Family Bookshop and the like.
But the focus in these places is not really so much on catering to the needs of the informed as the needs of the learner or the reader looking for some light fare or ‘ancient’ classics – Shakespeare, Jane Austen et al. Else they have fine, large, sometimes unwieldy, tomes called coffee-table books carrying unaffordable price tags.
My theory is that the best books are best bought at bargain prices in places beyond the regular bookshops. In Bombay you have the Flora Fountain, in Delhi the Sunday Bazar behind the Red Fort, in Calcutta the perennial College Street. In Bahrain I had at one time stumbled on some unsual, valuable and readable books on the Middle East in a fleamarket off Naim Police Station but that was many years ago. And the sprawling bazaar for bargain hunters in the Isa Town Market has piles of old magazines and shelvesful of books to rummage. But you have to be lucky to lay hands on something out of the ordinary at a decent price.
That leaves one with only two places from where one rarely returns empty-handed when it comes to good books at bargain prices. Both are close to each other near the second roundabout beyond Lantern Restaurant on Budaiya Road. One is run by Dogfather in a villa full of clothes, crockery and bric a brac with one full room set aside for shelvesful of books from top to bottom. The other is the double-storeyed BSPCA outlet in Busheri Gardens with books all over the place on the first floor.
Between them they have helped me fill my own bookshelves with precious volumes on art, cinema, travel, biography, history, politics and much more, thanks to the well-heeled expatriates leaving behind their book boxes for the two outlets to dispose of.