I do a lot of stupid things. And more often than not, they end up with acceptable, pleasant and sometimes even desirable results*. The most recent one was today, in getting a 600 page textbook printed** online but, forgetfully, not spiral bound as intended. So when the courier arrived with a cover enclosing a sheaf of 600 sheets, unbound and loose (but thankfully in order), I was puzzled and indignant, initially at the printers and then upon realization, at myself. The next 20 or so minutes were spent in wondering how best to collate the sheets.
Many experiments were done – Stapling chapter 1 separately was attempted. I had overestimated the common stapler. Then I segregated each chapter and arranged the 12 chapters in a neat row and congratulated myself on how good the arrangement looked. I briefly considered reading the book page by page. This idea was quickly dismissed. I also considered tagging them but maintaining a tagged set of 100-120 pages at a time is quite a chore as evidenced by past experiences. Finally I decided I’d undo my initial mistake and get the book spiral bound from a shop nearby. It would come at a price perhaps greater than I would have got it at if I’d remembered to do it the first time but oh well. It was the only way, I reasoned.
As I got ready to assemble the neat set of sheets, I wondered if I really wanted a bulky spiral bound book to carry around everytime I was reading a chapter or worse, a couple of pages. No. God had wanted me to make this mistake so I would have a choice, after looking at the number of sheets, of a combination of chapters to spiral bind per my liking. And when the Divine interfere in man-made plans, who are we to disagree? I decided I’d get the book spiral bound , two chapters per mini-book – 6 mini-books in total.
This new arrangement with intermediate separators for chapter-markers in place, I went to the Xerox shop. Now, bear in mind that I’m already hoping to reduce my overall cost to minimize my initial errors, so I’d decided to get the best deal for this additional-cost-incurring spiral binding. I approached the man at the counter and assumed a tone of what I hoped was familiarity – “Hello!! Isn’t your owner around?”, I asked placing my Queen’s pawn two steps forward (1.e5), the opening move of every chess player around the globe. My opponent showed no sense of expected affability, an individual obviously very used to dealing with potential bargainers. “Gone out. Tell me”, he parried (1.d5 ). My chance at an early advantage lost, I decided the only way forward was friendly aggression. “Heh, I’d like these pages spiral bound.”, and without leaving a gap for a dialogue, I continued – “I come here all the time. How much will you charge for these?”. The man scratched his forehead – “If you come here all the time, don’t you know how much a spiral bind costs?”, he sniggered, as if to say – “Dei, if you are bad, I am your dad“. He had me stumped, I admit. But not one to give up, fueled by skills gained over years of cheapness, I said, “Hehe, I meant, I used to come here all the time. Studied right here”, I thumbed at the school behind me. Never mind the fact that this shop hadn’t existed at the time I studied there, but he wouldn’t know. He seemed satisfied. His tone turned genial – “Saar 30 rupees per copy. 180 kodi“. I recognized the shift in tone but I still felt entitled for an enhanced discount. Not my best moment. “150 madkoli“. There was some friendly heheh-ing, a promise of future sales and referrals on my part, some head shaking and eventual hesitant nodding on his and he began the task at hand. “Mission: Bargaining – Accomplished”, I rejoiced.
And I waited. And watched.
The man separated the sheets I’d placed in order of chapters (thanks to my markers) and deftly took out a few sheets at a time and ran them through a punching machine before setting them aside. He repeated this task over and over untiring and with an air of someone who’d done this hundreds of times. A master at work. As I saw him run the punch through the sheets, I noticed the work it took. Even though he seemed to do it effortlessly, there was obviously some energy being expended with every downward motion. When someone skillful is at work, the sight of it is beautiful. Like a potter with his hands shaping a pot out of what was just minutes ago, mud. Like a carpenter slicing through wood as if it were butter. Like a man at a Xerox shop spiralling a coil of plastic through a vertical array of newly created holes as if it were just a nut around a bolt.
In less than twenty minutes, he placed the 6 mini-books in front of me and said – “Done saar.”. I gave him 200 rupees, waved to say I didn’t want the change and mouthed “Thank you”. He smiled and said “Thank you” in return.
I walked away, with 6 spiral bound books and a glum feeling of shame which was now being enveloped by a blanket of satisfaction.
*We will not talk about the times they resulted in disasters here.
**The textbook’s name will remain unnamed because while I’ve contributed to the brimming coffers of textbook sellers everywhere for a long time, sometimes the textbooks in the Indian subcontinent are overly heavy on the pockets as this one was.