It is the wardrobe to Narnia, the brick wall before Diagon Alley, the gate to Avalon and the portal to the City of Glass all rolled it one. No prizes for guessing, it is none other than your closest bookshop!
In a world driven by space, time and cash crunches Ebooks are becoming the norm and print books a privilege. Any bibliophiles reading this will protest, “No! Nothing can replace the feel of hardbound book and the smell of its pages!” There are also other readers who will agree that yes, ebooks have made it easy to tote around hundreds of books everywhere and anywhere without worrying about heavy boxes and the cost of movers and packers.
But in this drama of print versus kilobytes, the ones who truly suffer are not the traditional book lovers waiting for a hit of the “old book smell”; but the traditional book seller. The “Shop Around the Corner” as Nora and Delia Ephron referred to the David of the world of book shops, struggling to survive amidst Goliaths like “Fox Books”.
This was the story at the turn of the century, but coming into the second decade of the twenty first online sellers and ebooks are the new enemy. With Landmark closing down and Crossword stocking more and more stationary and toys over quality books, you can imagine what David book shops must be doing when even Goliath has bowed down before the Automatons and Androids.
Don’t worry I am not going preach to you all the virtues of paperbacks over Kindles and Kobos, what I’m going to offer is a slice of my life and the role of this little place called “Book World”. This place of magic located on Fergusson College Road in a basement shop is loved by the hundreds of college students that mill around Pune City. My tryst with the same started back in 2012 when my friends and I were looking for a shop recommended to my roommate for cheap purses, bored of my companions struggling to decide what they would like to buy, I wandered down to the basement of the shopping arcade to be welcomed by a hidden book shop aptly called “Book World”.
Book World was the place where I could indulge my guilty pleasure of Mills and Boons that were sold second hand, it was also where I could build my collection of Nora Roberts books, other mystery/ fantasy authors and admire the various types of Tarot decks and their companion books. Of course I was not a very frequent buyer but anytime I did, it was a special treat that had me in a good mood for days. Whenever I was in the area I would end up browsing the store, touching the bookshelves wishing I could read all of them my osmosis. Imagine those actresses in old Hindi movies walking in a garden with their fingertips trailing across the blooming flowers, yep that’s the look I was going for but it probably came across more like Gollum hissing “My precious…!”
Such is the draw of the book store that when I reached a little early for my first date I decided to browse the book store and release the nervous energy rather than stand chewing my nails anxiously. On one of my random trips to the store last year I discovered that they had decided to shut shop and started the process of cleaning out the stock by selling them at discounted rates. Sad as the cause was, the middle class shopper in my could not resist the lure of a Sale and dragged my friend to Book World, armed with our New Adult salary account debit cards. After multiple trips where my friends walked away with lighter pockets and heavier bag-packs, I finally could make up my mind. What a book haul it was, being able to buy these books from my salary is one of the few things that makes it tolerable to have a job that is draining my creativity with every Excel cell that I populate.
I don’t know what is the story of the people behind this store, I’ve never been the kind to strike up conversations with strangers you see. But I like to imagine what must be the stories behind all the books that reside there, especially the pre-owned ones. Goosebumps by R.L. Stine which I imagine were read in torchlight hidden under the blanket the night before school. The First Edition Harry Potters for which some child waited with baited breathe in an early morning line perhaps? Romance novels which were secretly read by disillusioned housewives to spirit them away from the monotony of loveless domestic lives. The myriad classics, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy, Austen and the Brontes being discussed by literature students from the neighboring colleges over canteen Chai and maggi, passionate discussions over character development over which passionate romances developed.
With every visit to the store I see the stock diminishing bit by bit, bringing the inevitable closer, and as a person who abhors change it’s going to be a change that I will crib over till I’m old a grey. I’ll tell my grandchildren how there was this little cave that could take me to places beyond imagination and how till date I haven’t found a replacement. Of course, all I need to do is go to The Bookworm or Blossoms Bookstore in namma Bengaluru and I’ll have same experience of mountains of books, old and new surrounding me.
But Book World will hold a special place in my heart for the mere fact that it was there in my life when I was just a little lonely in my first year of college, and walking down to the store in the afternoons after class was the reprieve I needed after feeling lost in the social structure of law school. I don’t know about diamonds, but I guess books will always be this girls best friend…