You have to deftly manoeuvre your way through the people packed into that small space at noon on a busy weekday. You squeeze through the crowd and manage to find a spot at the counter on which to rest your elbow. Attracting the attention of the diminutive, bespectacled man behind the counter is a real task. So for the moment, you focus on the pictures on the wall behind said diminutive man. A motley crew of Indian deities and a painted red swastika stare back at you.
As you get used to the sound of, and the intermittent light coming from, the two machines that Diminutive Man and his assistant handle, your eyes wander and take in all the expressions on the faces of the people on this side of the counter. They range from anxious to eager, from irritated to determined. They’re all worried; they’re all bent on getting what they need. “Dada, amar ta hoye gechhe?” Diminutive Man seems to have an uncanny talent for recognizing a voice without looking at the person’s face. Without missing a beat, he briskly hands someone a thick bunch of paper and a ratty notebook. The girl’s face bears a sign of utter relief as she leafs through the pile, pays up and leaves, making way for the next eager customer. Semester examinations are around the corner, and it’s raining photocopies.
The space is small, but the unmistakable smell of brisk business and hard work is in the air. You idly place your palm on a pile of freshly photocopied notes set aside for someone who shall come by and claim it later. The paper is still very warm — almost hot — to the touch. It’s an intimate heat that clings to the air in that little place, even as an old ceiling fan whirs doggedly above you. The sound of its rhythmic creaking, interrupted by the smooth hum of the white xerox machines that churn out copies of textbooks, notes and legal documents like clockwork, is strangely comforting. Sunshine streams into the small room from outside; there is nothing shady about this place. It’s business as usual.
There are some who would disagree. There’s been trouble in xerox paradise ever since prominent publishers moved the Delhi High Court to stop the practice of “reproducing and issuing publications of reputed publishers” in an “unauthorized and illegal manner”. For many of the students who waited anxiously to get their hands on precious study material in that little shop, this would mean next to no notes or texts to study. Most of them cannot afford expensive text books; even if they could, many text books aren’t easily available. Besides having to count their pennies, most students do not have the time to go hunting for rare books. Diminutive Man and his eager customers in that little corner shop create a system that works. One earns his keep, the others heave sighs of relief as they clutch their course material to their chests — it’s how they get by, in their own ways. You’d only need to be ensconced in a corner of the little shop to know that stealing anyone’s intellectual property is the last thing on their minds.