THE DEATH OF A BOOKSTORE
In the past ten days there have been two articles of note in ‘The Times Of India’ Hyderabad edition which serve as precursors to the obituaries that would follow of the Bookstores that we have grown up with and got used to. Sadly yes, it is like the death of a dear and near one and the grief that follows. The first one on 25th March 2015 announced ‘Iconic City Bookstore To Shut Down Shutters’. Since it is reported from Hyderabad anyone familiar with the city will immediately be able to place it. “Shop in Abids to make way for swanky shopping mall” the old makes place for the new, bringing an end to a generation that found unbounded pleasure while browsing through the books stocked neatly on dust free and polished shelves, and attended to by a knowledgeable owner whose love for books seemed equal if not more than what you had prided yourself with. AA Husain and Co. had been in existence the since the mid-forties of the last century and was turned into a bookstore in 1949.
The report quotes the current owner “Since 2010, the footfalls at the bookstore have dropped drastically. I believe it is because of the spurt of online bookstores. People find it convenient to buy books at either bookstore chains or online stores. Business for independent sellers is no longer profitable.” While book lovers are obviously upset those who will be most hit are the employees of the old store. Life will no longer be the same for them.
The second which appeared on the editorial page yesterday 4th March 2015 is by Dileep Padgaonkar ‘Browse No More – Sad but inevitable aftermath of the closure of a great bookshop’. He refers to iconic bookshops – one in Pune, the International Book Service located in Deccan Gymkhana and the other La Hune that has been operating in Paris since 1949 and known for its famous clientele “This where the Surrealists led by their, guru, Andre Breton congregated. On any given day you could spot celebrated writers, painters and filmmakers – Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Picasso, Max Ernst, Truffaut, Godard etc.- intently turning the pages of a book.” I also quote below the last portion of the article by Padgaonkar that sort of sums it up –
“Some lament the ‘emasculation of culture’ and the ‘cancerous growth of commercialism. Others stress the ‘inexorable logic of the market’ and the ‘democratisation of reading’ in a digitalized universe.
What the closure of a good bookshop portends though can hardly be denied. It deprives us of one of the gentler pleasures of life; Serendipity. This allows you to browse through books at leisure in the hope of discovering quite by chance, one that captivates your fancy.”
In this context I reproduce below a page from my book ‘I Am Just An Ordinary Man’ –
“I have enjoyed browsing through the books in the bookshops, apart from buying them. Though you have your Crosswords and Odysseys now, with their stacks of books along with other items as a one stop buy, I miss the old worldly charm of a Higginbotham at Madras or a Manney’s in Poona which were dedicated to only books. But these were large stores. The books I bought in Bombay were all from the pavement shop which you can still find when you walk from Victoria Terminus to Flora Fountain. Many times I have stood there gazing at the books. If what you were searching for was not available, the shopkeeper would get it for you. I have walked those pavements any number of times when I was in Bombay; during the day, during dusk and sometimes at night while going back to the railway station to catch the train back home. But if I remember one shop with special affection it was the ‘East West Bookshop’ in Baroda situated in one of the interior roads. That is because of one kind old man. The shop was small, his heart was big and his knowledge of books immense. Though he used to deal with customers by just getting the books they wanted, for me he did that little bit extra. He used to take me to the interiors of the shop and pull out books which had been lying there untouched, but meant a lot to him. He knew I was interested for he would then launch into a brief summary of the contents of the book and recommend to me for reading. Perhaps the most valuable of my acquisitions from there was a hard bound old edition of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea. When I was transferred from Baroda and made my visit to the shop before I left, he took me to the nearby hotel and bought me lunch. That was his way of showing affection. He wished me all the luck and then I left. I did visit the shop once or twice thereafter whenever I came down from Ahmedabad. Of course I never left without buying a book. Well that was a relationship and when I touched those books while cleaning them today, I thought of him. I do not know whether he is there now, but I am pretty sure he is not, for it has been nearly thirty five years since. I do not know whether the shop exists, but if it does, then I am sure it will not be the quaint old shop with a soul.”
Dileep Padgaonkar has aptly summed it up, and I have felt the same as a lover of books. I have never found myself comfortable with an e-book. Even to this day I like the book in my hand, to own it and find its rightful place in the bookshelf. But I have woken up to certain realities as an author. There are thousands of writers out there who struggle to see their book in print. Only a miniscule are successful in getting a publisher to accept their manuscript, which with any luck will be able to find its place in a bookstore. Stacking books in a bookstore involves holding inventory and this involves cost which the publisher does not want to risk for a debutant author. I have tackled the problem of ‘The Writer’s Dilemma’ in my post of 27th July 2014 at http://subbusg.blogspot.in/2014/07/the-writers-dilemma.html and earlier light hearted posts on the ‘Travails Of An Aspiring Author’. The only way out for such writers is through having their books published by way of self-publishing. There would be no rejections by publishing houses and the costs would be under control as they would be POD print on demand. Anyway I still have not understood the standards by which publishing houses accept or reject manuscripts. Many books accepted and published by the publishing houses have failed to take off, while a number of self-published authors have made it big. So you see as a self-published author the digital online stores have become a boon. I do whatever marketing is possible through the social media and hope for the best, footfalls in a bookstore do not ensure sales.
So you see my priorities as a book lover and an author are at loggerheads. But to sum up I can only say that I would still like to see my book on the shelf of a bookstore and watch surreptitiously with glee some customer picking up the book and browsing through it