When I was in college, my pocket money was Rs.20. This wasn’t something that got handed out by-right. It was an age when spending was still considered frivolous. And parents were still unsure about this new fangled concept of pocket money. With everything provided (they thought), what was the need for doling out money which was going to be wasted? So, receiving money of our own depended on the moods of parents, family finances, presence of guests who could be supportive or not and of course, on our immediate behavior. If all these barriers were passed, we might get the money.
That evening, a friend and I would board a bus to Higginbotham’s, one of the two bookshops in town. And I would buy a brand new Agatha Christie. In all its new wonderfulness with so much hidden inside waiting to be discovered.
I might have earmarked the book on previous visits. Or would select it within ten minutes of reaching the shop. But there was no question of billing it till I had browsed through all the books in the shop besides. And lusted over a couple more. Since I was going to buy; I could brave the beady eye of the attendants, who were quite capable of saying sternly- ‘its time to go home, your mother will be looking for you ‘. There might be some agonizing indecisions. But finally I would go home happy and replete with my purchase.
Being brought up on dog-eared books from lending libraries and those passed around a network of friends, a new book was something to be savored and stroked and loved. Something that gave inner happiness while I sat through classes. I would read the book first by divine right before my sisters and friends could get their hands on it.
Now, sometimes, just sometimes someone tells me about a book I have to read. More often it’s a book review that gives the urge to buy. One goes to the bookshop, looks around and then asks at the counter for it. The guy there makes a note and says, will let you know when it comes.
It’s rather disappointing; like buying something on the internet. You have to wait. And you may have changed your mind by the time the book comes.
Bookshops have changed face. They are more glitzy life style shops with books in one corner which gradually take up less and less space. You can easily spend your money on something else instead. It’s bright and there is piped music and books are arranged nicely. Latest bestsellers are set out in attractive displays. But anything besides the hot stuff gets a ‘which book did you say madam’?
There are bright young men in ties cracking jokes with each other while they wait for you to make up your mind. One thing I dislike is someone asking can I help you? Do I know what I want? Of course not. I’ve just come to take a look and be beguiled into buying some book I never knew existed.
Bookshops are not run any more by the book lover, rather by astute business men.
And the successful ones seem to be part of chains or spread on the platform.
I just read of this wonderful bookshop called Shakespeare in Paris, France. Where the owner knows the books he sells and recommends it to you and even provides beds for the impecunious traveler.
When more and more books are being published, and one assumes are being read besides being so hotly debated why are bookshops disappearing? People are supposed to be standing in queues that compete with the American embassy to buy Harry Potter.
In my hometown of Coimbatore, which is part of the growth boom, there are more and more shops of every other kind coming up everyday but the bookshop is disappearing. It’s still the bookshops of my youth which stay browse worthy. There are still some of the old guys, much friendlier now and who remember me. There are a couple of the new giftshop-bookshops. The crowded stores are the ones that sell text books and self help books and computer books.
But where are the ones where we can spend delightful hours browsing and just being there? We are losing a soul-stroking therapy.
On zine5 on Dec 13, 2007