From Part 1:
Disheartened, I looked to my right. Across the small one foot lane, an elderly man with thick graying mustache sat resting on a chair, cooling himself with a paper fan. He was heavy-set and wore a white cotton undershirt with long black pants. Behind him, through the opened door, I could see stacks of books piled up to the ceiling of the narrow shop.
I looked up at the signage. It said Haziq and Mohi, Rare Book Sellers - in English and Arabic.
My frustration evaporated. Oh love, I have arrived.
I was so excited that I was just one step short of waving to the man. From across the lane, I smiled at him like I had known him from before (well, I had seen him on You Tube) and he stared back me with a blank face. Some quick seconds later, I remembered that we hadn't met before and he had no idea who I was.
"Namaste, I'm so glad we finally found this shop. Are you Mr Bafanna?" I asked the man, while pointing to the signage on the door.
"Yes, yes..." He said as he got up, still with a serious look on his face.
"Are you looking for any books in particular?" He asked and gestured Vee and I to sit down. There were two empty chairs by the door.
The bookshop was small and narrow. The wooden sliding door was opened and from where we sat, I could see two long rows of books lined parallel to each other, from the front door right through the back.
The shop looked old and dusty; the smell of old books filled the air. It was dark inside, except for a lone bulb hanging in the middle of the dim room and slivers of sunlight shining in from the back and front doors.
Right then, a boy of about seven or eight years old appeared. He wore a dark sleeveless t-shirt and a pair of worn out jeans.
"This is my assistant, Imran." Vee and I smiled at the boy, and he smiled back.
We told Mr Bafanna that we found out about his bookshop from the internet. And that one of the main reasons for coming to the Old City was to look for Haziq and Mohi. I told him that we had almost given up because we thought we had lost our way.
Mr Bafanna smiled and said people often lose their way looking for the place. He asked Vee and I which part of India we came from.
"We're from Malaysia. And this is our last day in Hyderabad actually. So, we're very happy to be able to meet you before we leave tonight, " Vee said.
"You are from Malaysia? And you came looking for this shop based on what you read on the internet?" He asked sounding pleasantly surprised and touched.
Mr Bafanna asked for our names. When I told him my name is Fiza, he said that Fiza in Urdu means "atmosphere". I smiled and said yes, while nodding my head.
Hearing my answer, Mr Bafanna looked a bit more excited than before. He asked me if I spoke Urdu. I told him that I don't speak Urdu but a Pakistani friend told me what Fiza meant in Urdu some years back.
He then asked me if I could speak Arabic. I told him I don't except for a few basic phrases, but I could read Arabic scripts well. He smiled, nodded and said that was good.
Feeling that the ice had been broken, I asked if we could take a look around. He said we were most welcomed to go inside.
Vee and I went in. Imran had already walked out of the shop before we entered, to make room for us, I guess. The walking space between the two rows of books allowed only one person to pass through at one time.
We discovered more rows of books behind that front row of books on the right. It was amazing to see hundreds, if not thousands of books stored in such a small space.
There weren't any bookshelves around - just books and manuscripts stacked on top of one another right from the floor and up to the ceiling. Some of the books were tied together, I suppose they were different volumes of the same publication.
We took our time admiring the collections of books. They came in various languages - English, Urdu, Persian - to name a few that I can identify.
Once we emerged from that sea or rather the cave of books, Mr Bafanna pulled a stool and sat in between Vee and I. He shared that he got into the bookshop business just after graduating from university. His uncle who owned the shop wanted to move to the Middle East and so, he took over the business. To date, Haziq and Mohi had been in operations for over 30 years.
I asked him about William Dalrymple. Mr Bafanna's face lit up and he told us that Dalrymple bought a lot of manuscripts and books in Persian when he came. Those were his main references for his book "The White Mughal".
"Do you have a copy of the White Mughal?" I asked Mr Bafanna.
He kept quiet for a while and looked like he was trying to remember something. I imagine he was going through the pieces of card catalogs in his mind. You know, the library index cards kept in rows of small drawers in alphabetically order back in the day...
Then Mr Bafanna said he might have a copy and went back into the shop. Vee asked if he had any books by Shakespeare.
After a few minutes, he came back with two books. He apologized that he had ran out of "The White Mughal" and only had "The Last Mughal". He handed the book to me. It was thick and I contemplated about buying it and the likelihood of having excess baggage.
At the same time, I was totally enamored by the other book "The Untold Charminar: Writings on Hyderabad", a collection of essays on Hyderabad edited by Syeda Imam.
While Vee and I sat perusing the books, we heard Mr Bafanna made a call. He asked the person on the other end about books by Shakespeare. After what sounded like negotiations, he came back out.
"I am sorry, my friend is lazy. He doesn't want to look for the books. I don't understand these people..." Vee and I laughed and said it was okay.
Just then, I remembered that we were out of cash. I asked Mr Bafanna if there were any money changer nearby. He said yes, and called Imran to do something. And off Imran ran out into the lane.
In a couple of minutes, a man in his early fifties came riding on a motorbike. Mr Bafanna told me that the money changer was near but not really a walking distance. He told me to go with the man on his motorbike.
Vee and I exchanged quick looks. Vee knew very well that I only trust my father on a motorbike, period. And now, I had to ride a motorbike with a stranger; without any helmets, and probably ride the bike sidesaddle!
We didn't say anything - Vee laughed at my pained look. And off I went on my motorbike ride (side saddled, to be exact)...
When we got back to Haziq and Mohi with the rupees, I thanked the man in my best Hindi, "Bhaisaab, bahut shukria" (Brother, thank you very much) and awkwardly tried to give him some money for his time. But he politely refused and said in Hindi that Mr Bafanna is his friend.
Funnily, on that last day in Hyderabad, I learnt an important lesson on sidesaddle riding. Apparently if you're riding pillion and sidesaddle, you get on the bike by stepping on the footrest (there is only one). It would give you the leverage to reach the seat in a more ladylike manner. The operative word is ladylike.
And on that last day in Hyderabad, I had the chance to meet Mr AM Bafanna, a man who understood the wealth of knowledge contained in those old yellowing pages and who had dedicated his life to books; I also got to visit the place frequented by one of my favorite authors and I bought a very interesting book that has since proven to be a delicious read over and over again.
That was a good day.
Safiza is a Travel Blogger, Common Reader, Book Hoarder, Art and Nescafe Tarik Lover.