Paromita Vohra: A book, a table, a city
As Strand Book Stall announced its final closure on February 28, a ripple of despair and reminiscence followed - and inevitable declarations about how the city was changing for the worse
As Strand Book Stall announced its final closure on February 28, a ripple of despair and reminiscence followed - and inevitable declarations about how the city was changing for the worse.
Strand was indisputably special. I remember the first book I bought there - a hardback of - I Alan Sealy's Trotternama - on discount. I remember the poetry section on the right, full of Indian poets I did not know then and how, over the years the shelf for contemporary Indian writing grew and spread across the back in snaking stop motion. Folks speak of these spaces in sepia tints, but in my memory Strand had a bustling contemporaneity and the sense of a writing scene developing before our eyes.
Since then, the world of Indian writing has grown so much. Bookstores opened that door, but the Internet blew it open creating spaces for new voices, new kinds of books, new markets, new reading publics. That's a good thing too.
True, bookstores aren't as much fun as before. Going to a bookshop used to be full of anticipation - about the tasty temptations ahead - and dread that you'd buy too much (you did). As bookstores expanded, visits have felt like channel surfing, or Tinder swiping. You hope for pleasure, but each passing minute feels more desultory.
Similar regret has been expressed over the years when iconic cafés shut down. The closing of cafés like Naaz on Malabar Hill made me sad as it overlapped with only my first few years in Bombay. When Sea View on Juhu beach closed I was in mourning. I could not go past that bend in the road for a long time because so many evenings of work and friendship and romance and breezy solitude were tied up with it.
When, later, a friend spoke in tragic tones about the closing down of Zenzi, I giggled, but well, that was her truth, hipster as it was.
For those new to the city, there are other landmarks, other reasons for excitement, other maps.
There is a loss of course in this city of places where diverse people could converge – cafés that were not so posh or such a 'scene' that all sorts did not enter there. The udipis, the quarter bars, the
little places where you discovered that there were many people different from you in this world and sat next to them with a kind of shy interest, wondering what they were thinking of you. The day you lost that self-consciousness you knew that you had melted, through sheer force of humidity perhaps, into the pot of the city.
Perhaps it is the same without bookstores like Strand - the likelihood of chance discovery reduces. To encounter an unfamiliar type of book, to dare to touch it and take it home for the night - this could lead you into a very different world of reading, writing and being. Perhaps there is some loss of
Sometimes rapacity or a cavalier development changes a city. But sometimes we change it. Despite finding bookstores blah, I confess I haven't been to Strand for years. I shop online and depend on friends to tell me about books. Sometimes, to be sentimental about a lost world is to be sentimental, rather than honest, about a lost self.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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