An Interview with Mr Fareed Ahmed of Mecca Book House

An interview with Mr Fareed Ahmed – owner of one of Bangalore’s oldest book houses.

Mecca Book House sits between an antique looking house and a car accessory shop on MM road, Frazer Town.  The owner, Mr. Fareed Ahmed owes the entire business to his father, who was a voracious reader.

Ahmed arrives at the shop at 10 am, and opens the shutter slowly. He invites me to sit on a worn-out stool. Its cushion is held down with brown-tape. With an air of pride, Ahmed goes on to talk about how his father ran the business for nearly half a century (42 years); which started out at Commercial Street, China Bazaar. He insists that I must remember a Mr. Farook Mahmood, who is very dear to Ahmed’s family. The former was instrumental in making this business a reality, by suggesting the idea to open a book shop. Mahmood even lent some books to Ahmed’s father.  

Fareed Ahmed mentions that his supplies are not only sourced from Bombay, but are also imported from England and the US. Four archaic registers with their hard-bound covers in tatters are neatly stacked on his desk. And from behind this desk, Ahmed recounts his school days spent at St. Joseph’s Indian High School. To my astonishment, he admits that he was thrown out of school for being mischievous. Before I could prod for more information, he ended the matter there. 

Before joining the enterprise, Ahmed was a textile salesman. He speaks highly of his grandfather; “He was one of the first to own a motorcycle in Bangalore,” he says. Sadly, this 65-year-old man has to shut down the book house. “This property is not mine. The landlady wants it back and therefore we are compelled to close.” He places his hand on two huge prehistoric-type stones piled one on top of the other, that sit on a wooden stool. When pages fall out from books, Ahmed glues them together and uses these stones to keep them in place.

Ahmed is to close shop in December. About the his future endeavour, he philosophizes – “Take life as it comes.” Having said this, he stands up abruptly, goes a little distance and crosses the road. I held in my curiosity, and tried my best to stay put at the book house. However, it got the better of me when he returned, and I had to ask him where he went.

He went to return a newspaper (Again, I didn’t want to probe more into the subject). The man has a wordless way of announcing when matters aren’t to be discussed.

When I ask him what he intends to do for money, he says, “Goodwill is a big asset”, and thus depends on his well-wishers and loved ones for support. His son, working at Ernst & Young, does not share his grandfather’s love for reading. Neither does Ahmed! He asserts that he only reads books to kill time, and to that — does not have a favourite book or genre. And here – unexpectedly, he shouts, “Salaam Alaikum!” to a guy riding past the shop.

There is silence and I shift in my seat. Ahmed lights a cigarette and reveals another reason for ending this long-standing business. One day, he came across an old friend. Supposedly the 67th richest man and a famous builder, this dear friend shocked at Ahmed’s career choice said, “In this internet age, you are running a library?!”

He stubs the cigarette bud and takes The Times of India and begins to read. A passer-by stops and presents a medical prescription to Ahmed asking for the location of a hospital. This is the second person so far to ask for directions, the first being a perplexed man who had a hard time even managing sentences.

Mecca Book House is regularly visited by people from the Middle East. Customers have told Ahmed that one in 10 people know about his shop. Reverend Donald Grant stops by and greets Ahmed. He amicably invites me, “You should come to my house and interview me. I live just two houses away. I once spoke to a journalist about the history of Frazer town.”

As Ahmed stares at the road with a blank expression, I try to break the ice and ask him a question I already know the answer to. But the silence was stinging and I had to do something.

– Ehm. So what newspapers do you usually read?

– The Times of India and Bangalore Mirror.

Saying this he leaves the shop again. This time to enjoy a cup of chai at a store around the corner.   

Meanwhile, his relative Ibrahim Mohammad enters and sits on the stool diagonal from Ahmed’s desk.  Mohammad does not say a word, until I greet him. But Ahmed is back and I muster the strength to ask him a last question about his profits in the book business; “I make a decent living” he says. Living by his motto which is a quotation from the Koran, “Always be humble, polite, honest and sincere”; Ahmed retires – with absolutely no plans for the future.

Featured Image Credits – The Times of India

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Mark Sequeira

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