Looking for Food of the Mind

 

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.

Where cats rule the roost

Despite so much hullabaloo about dogs, dog fights, abandoned dogs, stray dogs and malnourished or maltreated dogs in the Bahrain Press you do not really get to see dogs in certain parts of the island. There is no trace of any dogs [except pets on leash] in Adliya, Zinj, Juffair, even Gudaibiya, Manama or Busaiteen. The menace seems to be confined to the outskirts of the capital or certain villages.

This aspect of dog-free areas brings into focus those lovely, stylish, adorable felines. Yes, cats rule the roost in all these areas mentioned above, in addition to the areas where dogs do prowl about, because with their sharp survival instincts developed over millennia the clever cats know how to outwit the stupid dogs.

Only the other day, at a friend’s place in Jurdab, I noticed a cuddly cat basking in the sun on top of a wall, leisurely and nonchalantly licking its paws, while a hefty dog barked its guts out as if that would persuade the snooty one to walk into its jaws!

But in the dog-free areas they indeed have a free run, sitting around in knots close to garbage skips, or atop parked vehicles, or lurking under them. And if you notice, unlike the dogs who have this habit of barking at the smallest pretext, cats rarely utter a meaow unless they are hungry or want attention for some reason. Else they remain silent and operate silently and stealthily. I often wonder why they sit around garbage skips without exchanging any pleasantries, merely staring at each other. Do they exchange notes, thoughts and ideas telepathically?

Interestingly, unlike dogs, cats play around with their own species but rarely. I say rarely because I have noticed them playing and fooling around on occasion in the park close to the Marina Club. They would approach each other, gently touch foreheads, glide past each other as they rub their bodies and the day’s greetings over, off they go running after each other, climbing trees or bounding across grassy patches. When hungry they’d either jump into one of the garbage bins or, more often than not, sit circling a picnicking family at a discreet distance, patiently waiting for stray crumbs as they are flung in their direction.

Cat-watching can be fun indeed because cats are proud, independent, self-sufficient and uncommandable – unlike dogs which come running to you if you just whistle in their direction and grovel at your feet even if you give them nothing. As a friend commented: Dogs need masters while cats need servants.

The loveliest walks down the road…

I wonder how many people have given a thought, while they drive across the highways and byways of Bahrain, as to the finest and the most beautiful stretch of road they may have encountered. Given the size and landscape of Bahrain it is not difficult to gauge and assess such areas. Vast stretches of Bahrain are desert, scrubland or yellow rocky hills. But man has managed to harness the natural green stretches or create ‘green’ pockets in the inhabited areas though not always with the best results.

Indeed some of the thickly-green areas falling within the stretch starting from the Lantern Restaurant and ending with the Budaiya Road [whre it meets the sea] could be turned into attractive green enclaves but have been left to the vagaries of nature or the whimsicalities of the owners of all those gardens and fields with only fitful attempts having been made which do little to ‘cheer up’ the tone and tenor of the area on a large scale.

Yes, the individual gated communities, villa complexes and bungalows within compounds do go for landscaping etc. but that is private enterprise meant for the eyes of the owners / tenants. Again one has huge parks like the one near the airport which at one time had [and maybe still has] even the recorded chirpings of birds to break the monotony and solitude of the place. Well, the overall impact is cheering and soothing but there is little to write home about in terms of being ‘taken in’ by the sight.

In my opinion there are only two stretches of public roads in Bahrain which leave one delighted to the core and persuade one to drive slowly so one could take in the sight and imbibe its beauty.

The first is the stretch in Riffa from the Clock Tower to the edge [or dip] of the hilly terrain with the Awali Complex looming in the distance. This royal road is a treat for anyone, whether on foot or in a car, with tall, green, symmetrical trees virtually leaning over to create a kind of unending arbour reminiscent of similar stretches in the oasis of Al Ain in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

And the other is the short road behind the Prime Minister’s office on which the UAE embassy stands, as well as a school and some other lovely villas. Each house is an architectural gem on this stretch with its own carefully-nurtured greenery, symmetrical walls, graceful design – almost like a slice of Miami seafront. And the beauty of it is that there is nothing to distract the view facing the villas but just a wall. So if you drive past the road say at 11am it is a dream experience.

If my readers can find any other lovely stretches of the road in the Kingdom they are welcome to revert.