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When bookstores shut down

“It will be open for some time still, ma’am; don’t worry,” the familiar-looking cashier smiled, half-heartedly, trying his best to sound reassuring as he billed my pile of books

“It will be open for some time still, ma’am; don’t worry,” the familiar-looking cashier smiled, half-heartedly, trying his best to sound reassuring as he billed my pile of books. He would have had to repeat the same dialogue to a lot of customers, especially of late, I imagined. After all, the over-a-decade-old bookstore, the lone surviving bastion for all things books in my suburb, Mulund, will be shutting shop soon. This, because the mall in which it is located will be undergoing a revamp and emerge in another avatar, possibly.

The news of the shutdown was doing the rounds for a while. And the eternal optimist within was hoping for a miracle. But akin to what one is witnessing like a plague across the city, with its cinemas and old-style cafes having to shut down, this too will meet the same fate.

A flood of memories rushed to the head on autopilot, like footnotes at the end of each page. One remembered boasting to SoBo colleagues (much to their disbelief) about having the largest outpost of this retail book chain. It was a book space, and a social hangout too — thanks to its spacious café, cosy (and quiet) reading nooks with cushions, and a colourful children’s section — with special care given to its bright interiors, complete with delightful carpets, kiosks and a well-stocked reading list.

The weekends were particularly busy, and almost always an event would take centre stage in the large hosting area.

From book readings to children’s activities (in the school vacations) and even animal care workshops, it was whirring like an efficient, well-oiled machine. What was heartwarming and encouraging to note amidst all of this was that people of all age groups were actually dropping by and seemed happy to be around books —a positive indicator for any society.

Where would all these people go now? The diehard variety might tread to other bookstores, in other suburbs. The rest will comfortably shift to other weekend activities in the area and beyond. And what about the kids who would spend Sunday afternoons poring over stacks of Amar Chitra Katha and Wimpy Kid editions? Will they return to their PlayStations and other distractions that were always threatening to upstage the humble storybook? Possibly, yes. So, it’s settled then. Everyone will move on, eventually.

As some booklovers (yours truly included) will mourn the going away of another sacred space, it remains to be seen if the suburb will see another bookstore or if it’s curtains for good. If the latter happens, it would mean sounding a death knell, especially to Gen Next, who might grow up never knowing the experience of being in a bookstore, let alone having the patience to skim through an Oxford Dictionary to find the difference between the meaning of a paperback and a hardbound.

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day

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