Book in Store for a Surprise

7 Dec

I walked into crossword (a chain of bookstore in India for those who are unfamiliar) to pick up the much talked about book – Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’. I had been meaning to read this book since I first encountered it in 2005; however, I never got around to reading it. But this is not the reason why I choose to blog today after all these months. I walked into crosswords placed strategically in the center of a busy mall, but I was surprised to be welcomed by a deserted store surrounded by books. I glimpsed outside just to ensure I was not transported to another world, much like the plot of any magical storybook, unfortunately I wasn’t and it was for real. I was the only one standing there amidst the books; besides a couple browsing some children games and two guys looking at the cd collection (I hardly count them as book lovers). I looked from one stand to another; the shop seemed to shrink, the choices of author and books included only those that made it to the bestseller’s list and one fourth of the shop was covered in cd’s, magazines and children playbooks and toys . Not to my surprise today handbags, watches, chocolates, greeting cards, laptop accessories also made it within the definition of a bookstore. Consumerism is one thing but changing the definition of a word is where I think I would like to draw the line. Bookshops are my hiding place. It’s where I first met solace. I walk into a bookstore and immediately sense a feeling of joy- a feeling that is hard to describe. I move from one aisle to another, one book to another. Picking up the book gently, staring at the front page, reading the title, trying to imagine what lies inside. I turn the book to read the synopsis, a glimpse to the writers mind. And wait, here comes my favorite part – I open the book and take in the fresh smell. There is just something about the smell of books- new or old. Maybe the only time I was most excited to see my textbooks when in school and college. To a book lover, above, I have just described his paradise. My mind came back to the narrow lanes of the bookshop. How can this paradise be this empty then? The essence of a bookshop is its people, people like me and you that stride in and pick up their favorite book and start reading. I was sad, almost miserable. I did not feel like I was in a bookshop at all. I quietly picked up the book and went to the check-out counter. I was tempted to ask the guy the reason this place was so empty but refrained as any answer would not have made me feel good. I stepped outside the shop and joined the hustle bustle. I wonder what makes us go into Marks and Spencer’s and these days all I here off in Pune “Zara” and spend their one month salary but are not motivated to walk into a bookshop and pick up a book and read. My first true experience of a bookshop was in 2009 when I first visited US. I realized how books are your best friend and how it keeps you company and how you can pretend to read when you want to avoid all those stares or when you want to avoid conversations or just be transported to a different world. On one such lonely day I walked into Barnes and Nobel’s. A shop that helped me survive made me feel at home away from home. I could find a book on every topic, different authors from round the world- Religious to atheist books, popular to the long forgotten classics. It was as if I opened the doors to heaven. Now don’t think I had never seen a bookshop before and that was my first. Just this place was different, it was like nothing I had seen before. I plunked myself on the carpeted floor of the sixth lane that read ‘Fiction’, picked up a book and started to read it. They had placed small couches with tables for each section of the bookshop and a small Starbucks coffee shop enticed you to stay there all day. Honestly I could not afford to take back anything so I sat there reading for three hours. I took an oath that day that every weekend I would spend some time in this little place called a bookshop. So today when I saw an empty bookstore back home I could not completely blame the people, we made no efforts to make it a little more inviting for people to walk in, sit and read. We are forced to just come, browse, pick up and check-out. Now tell me would you rather not walk into Zara and be welcomed by this sweet customer care executive ensuring that you make the best choice for the 3,000 rupees you are all set to spend? I wouldn’t blame you if your answer was yes. Abandoned bookshops or ones that cater to everything that sells but books are not fooling anyone. I am sad, no I am angry. What suddenly changed? Why don’t I see children walking into the shop and reading? Why? The painful answer came to me in two alphabets that has shaken the world today ‘I.T’. What can you not do thanks to the websites today? Everything is just a click away and just like that with one click the web world took away the joy of holding a book. Various sites like Amazon, Flipkart and e-book providers (please correct me if there is a one word for this term) like Kindle, I-Pad has changed the definition of books and bookstores. I was introduced to this world much later than most of you. I can’t say I did not try my hands on it or I was not enticed to join the bandwagon, in fact I hopped on to it quite comfortably and willingly. But that empty bookstore stirred a new emotion in me. It made me realize how people like me have driven these bookshops to minimize in size, reduce its stock of books only to the most popular ones and add to the collection all that sells, just to meet its cost. Indeed a sad state of being. At that moment I stopped to stand and think- ‘When I go online to purchase a book do I experience the same emotions? Am I running from one window to another to check out the different kind of books at sale, the cost and how many people have rated the book (like it means anything). And most importantly can I smell its history, from where it came; can it stimulate my mind to think, why the author wrote this book? Can it transport me to another world?’ My answer was NO. I was not experiencing anything other than lethargy. A good bookshop is hard to find in Pune. There is no place I can go and read but some old bookshop has kindled some hope for people like us. They have at least safeguarded the term “Books” and “Bookstore”. One such place is ‘Manneys’ , alongwith a small shop on east street (I will update the name once I remember it) and yet another one at south main road of Koregoan Park (will update this too). I shudder at the way things are moving. Work getting into your personal time and space with Blackberry, i-phones and androids keeping you connected to the professional world ALWAYS. With Google and Microsoft word robbing your vocabulary and ability to think hard. And to reinstate – e-books replacing the real deal – books. What will happen if slowly all these places close down as they are found redundant? Where will I go and hide? Where will I go if I fight with my husband or if I need time away from this crazy hustle bustle? Oh my God I almost forgot until this instance – What will happen to my dream of having a huge room filled with books I have read, collected from different places and book exhibitions or gifted? I am afraid; please tell me this will not end? Please tell me I will still be able to walk into a place called a bookshop when I am 60 years old, sitting on the sofa with a book, leaving that place contended and happy. I request all the Bill Gates and ( Late) Steve Jobs of the world to not rob this and the coming generation the pleasure of holding a book, a pleasure of walking into a room filled with books. I know today an I-Pad and Kindle come so close to the touch and feel of a book, but can you grow old with them, can you proudly place them in your collection, can you attach meaning to each one of those books you have read. Can you 10 years from today pick up the book, hold it close, smell its memories and recall “Aha this was the first book I read” or “ This was his first gift to me”. Can you put in a bookmark or hide your love notes in between the pages to only find them 5 years later and smile? If your answer is yes then I will surrender to you Mr. I.T and will put down my sword (here it means keyboard). But even for a minute you could relate to what I said, or agree with me, please shut close this page, lock your computers and walk into the nearest bookshop to experience what I am so afraid to l ose. (read how books got its name)

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One Response to “Book in Store for a Surprise”

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  1. PHILLYBOOKPICKS authors, books are now in book-stores ! « Phillybookpick's Blog - December 8, 2011

    [...] Book in Store for a Surprise (susankutar.wordpress.com) [...]

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