Book stores have always been an integral part of my life. Of childhood and while I was growing up. They always were my private sanctuaries. Someplace I could go to and not be judged at all. The first semblance to a bookstore in my life was a corner in Breach Candy called, “Reader’s Paradise” – I was five and would raid the picture books section. I remember as though it was yesterday – clean colourful mats for children to sit on and read. My mother would shop somewhere and leave me there with my brother and we would read. Read till she would be done and buy the books for us. That was the most exciting time of growing up (besides Hot Wheels and He-Man figurines).
Then there was Strand, which I discovered in college. My uncle introduced me to the owner, Mr. Shanbhag and he seemed to know everything about books. He would tell me what to read and what not to. I think after my mother, it was Mr. Shanbhag who introduced me to reading all over again. When I could not afford books, he would sell them to me on credit, and I would pay eventually. He never forced me to pay as soon as possible though. That was his love for books. He passed on recently and I stopped going to Strand. Too many memories of him with chai conversations on books lingered. I could not handle it anymore. Strand is not what it used to be. Thank you Mr. Shanbhag for all the book memories I hold dear even today.
My first job was at Crossword Book Store at Mahalaxmi. The time when it had just opened. There was only one Crossword then. Sriram and Anita knew their books and they knew the kind of people they wanted to hire. I was ecstatic. I was a part of Crossword and it was a ten-minute taxi ride from home. I discovered the joy of cataloging books. The pleasure of arranging them and helping customers with book queries. Nothing else mattered in those 6 months. The quaint coffee shop and my coffee breaks with Bini (senior manager), and discussing books and authors. I did not get my cheque for 6 months. I had used my credit against books. That was life. Sadly today Crossword isn’t what it used to be. It is just a mass producing manufacturing unit.
Lotus Book Store came long much later in life. Lotus was a non-descript book store located on the top of the petrol pump building opposite Bandra Masjid. That is where I met Virat. Virat knew his books and he knew the kind of books I liked and loved reading. That was enough. No matter what time of the year, LBS always had the temperature at 16 degrees in the shop. Cold as heck and warmth provided by books. I can never forget that I was introduced to Joyce Carol Oates at this bookstore. Lotus Book Store just down two years ago. The owners felt no need for it. My heart broke a little.
Landmark made its presence felt later in the city. It had its aura when it was just a book store. Yes I remember that time as well. Murali and Niyati once again became friends. Books joined us at the hip and continue to do so. They no longer work at Landmark though.
Danai is another store that I love. Veena and Piyali are now friends. They were once just women who helped me pick a few books. I love my connections with them. I hope this bookstore lives on till it does and does not shut abruptly.
Granth is too mechanical. They are more interested in what you buy or not and leave the shop without an interaction.
Bookstores have a charm of their own which should never die. Sadly people who work there sometimes do not understand this. Customers need to be interacted with. Spoken to about books. To know what I like and what I do not. Books need to be respected at bookstores and that doesn’t happen. Not at least where I live. Bookstores are on the decline. I have been told that and I see it almost every single day. The demand for the kind of books I read can only be fulfilled online.
Today, when I enter a bookstore, the owner or the manager does not take the effort to know me as they used to. As a reader, I do not feel like going back to the store. Crossword is not what it used to be. Landmark at Phoenix will probably never reopen. The Prithvi Bookstore is barely surviving. Bookstores also need customers and they do not know how to treat them. The vicious cycle, I suppose. It is easier to order from an online bookstore and yet there is no touch or feel factor before you buy it. It is a mechanical process. I wish that changes.
This is for the bookstore that lives on in my mind: “What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.” – Neil Gaiman.