Friday, March 28, 2008

REQUIEM FOR A BOOKSHOP

It was an ill-advised business decision. The western suburbs of Mumbai do not take kindly to bookshops. Here, the only books most people read are self-help books (or chequebooks). Spending money on books is regarded as a frivolous waste of money.
Even the name could not save it. Shree Ganesh Bookshop, named after the god of business who was also the scribe of The Mahabharata, was 'positioned' to fail. In the heart of Kandivili's Thakur Complex, I came across it when it was being set up by its mild-mannered owner. I was its first customer, so the owner informed me, handing me a sacred piece of coconut and a peda. I purchased some storybooks for my daughters at throwaway prices (although the books were new), and an old edition of PEOPLE magazine, documenting Oscar fashions down the years. A collector's item for Rs 100!
Over the next few months, I would often treat myself to a sudden visit to the bookshop. Whenever I would visit my daughter's school, which was nearby. Whenever I had some ice-cream from the next-door Natural's outlet (a double treat - books + food!). It was not an ordinary bookshop. The books (and the huge variety of magazines) were all by foreign publishers; new but often scruffed. I wondered whether they were smuggled/contraband goods, or discarded by the publishers for some reason. The mystery of the transit-history of the books was enhanced by the physical adventure of actually finding ones that I liked. It was a back-breaking treasure hunt to dig around in the narrow shelves and unpacked crates in that cramped space.
Here are some of my 'finds', all at ridiculously inexpensive prices:

  • Mixed-up Fairy Tales - a DIY mix-and-match book for children where it is great fun to find the correct/jumbled-up sequence in the fairytales.
  • Treasury for Children - a collection of heart-warmingly illustrated animal tales by James Herriot, who was a vet.
  • a Parragon illustrated encyclopedia of World History - very useful and succint.
  • the very well-written, superbly illustrated-and-produced Orchard Series, on Greek Myths, Viking Stories (for my elder daughter) and Nursery Rhymes (for the younger one).
  • a Book of Virtues, where well-known children's folk-and-fairy tales are used to exemplify a human virtue (for my niece).
  • two not-so-critically-acclaimed-but readable-nonetheless books by Salman Rushdie: Shame and The Ground Beneath Her Feet (for me and the spouse).
  • many many brightly-coloured, boldly-lettered, age-appropriate books as gifts for the children whose birthdays we regularly attend (one of the occupational hazards of motherhood).

These books will remain, some with me, some in the houses and hearts of other people. But the quaintly-named bookshop has closed down. The ruefully-smiling owner took my phone number, promising to inform me of the new address when they re-opened. He hasn't kept his promise.

In always-moving Mumbai, not many people had the time (or inclination) to browse and buy from Shree Ganesh Bookshop.

R.I.P.

2 comments:

lopamudra said...

i can actually visualize you rummaging through books with a look of fierce determination and concentration to find something worthwhile.do you remember the bookshop in gariahat market corner where we regularly rented books ? does it exist anymore?

Sucharita Sarkar said...

yes it was still there when we last visited Kolkata in November2007.In fact, we bought some books (and sold a few, like Jackie Collins and Archies stuff). Kolkata clings to its institutions, be it the venerable Coffee House or the makeshift pavement stalls. But it is good that some things do not change, isn't it?