Fiona Fernandez: A bookstore called Bombay
The city needs to rekindle its love affair with bookstores to keep alive these mini ecosystems of intellect and culture in a fast-moving world
By the time you read this, the banners and signage representing an annual literature fest in the city would probably be in the process of being removed and kept away until next year. Jholawallahs, Page-3 types, silver-haired adda-loving uncles, eager-beaver collegians - the place typically attracts all kinds. In fact, a quick dekko of the crowds at the venue always brings a smile to the face of the bibliophile. And by the end of the four-day festival, the official word on the numbers in attendance would include words like 'throngs', 'thousands' and the like. In fact, scenes from its temporary bookstore are encouraging, making one believe that the physical bookstore has a shot at survival in the city.
Yet, these bookstores - islands of intellect and literature - seem to be battling to stay alive - and have been phased out without as much as a goodbye or a promise to return. The timing couldn't have been more ironic. Recently, as the literature festival kicked off at its SoBo venue, a colleague mentioned the shuttering of Om Book Store inside a Lower Parel mall. It was the second bookstore that met with this fate in the same mall. The coincidence of the location wasn't lost on us. Another example to reiterate the commercial whitewashing of the city; underlining the reality that it doesn't have room for brick-and-mortar bookstores anymore.
A few days later, in another part of the city, we were in the middle of browsing a delicious selection of titles. This was in Juhu, and we were at Paperback at Prithvi Theatre, inside what is probably the city's last standing indie bookstore. Hindi and English books covering a heady mix of topics, from rural theatre to writings by Mussolini, and sourced from a range of unheard-of publishers, were jostling for shelf space inside a tiny, quirky set up. Outside the bustle of activity [the annual Prithvi Festival was underway] seemed miles away. Inside, the lack of space, and din didn't seem to perturb yours truly or the other patrons from continuing with what they were there for. As the whirring of the lone wall-mounted revolving fan continued, a mini ecosystem continued to survive, and thrive. In many ways, it reminded us of Bombay: the unsaid acceptance to adjust in a limited space, a nudge here, a push there, a potpourri of choices and faces - each distinctly different from the other. And yet, a synergy that allowed all to exhale. It felt good, and familiar.
That's when it struck us. How terribly inadequate has the city become of such reading spaces? Festivals might thrive, annual book sales will let the cash registers ring and book releases will take place to packed audiences but where are the physical bookstores to satiate readers for the rest of the time? In a single week, we were faced with this unsavoury reality check.
The world may be going the digital way, but the demise of another physical bookstore in the city isn't a good sign. We need to support the few that remain, and hope the same engagement that we sighted at such festivals translates into more permanent havens for readers. We need to ensure that we make room for more such Bombays. We can adjust, after all.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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