Saturday, February 21, 2004


I have noticed innumerable changes about Bangalore, but there are two things I am happy about: the sudden mushrooming of cafes and bookshops, and sometimes a combination of the two. I remember enviously reading about those fabled bookshops in the West where one could browse leisurely over a cup of coffee and where the assistants do not hover around you, asking if you need anything in particular but in reality implying that you’ve been there too long and if you didn’t choose something by now, well you damn well ought to have. But I never expected these kinds of shops to blossom in Bangalore. Well they haven't, but they're trying. I went to this place called CROSSWORD, a huge bookstore that opened up just the last week. The place is very well designed, and the ambience is very civilized, if a little cold, and they DO have an attached café. I had heard about this chain before, and was very eager to try it out, but either it was too new or maybe I was expecting too much because there were a number of problems with the place. I can tolerate almost anything in a good bookstore, except wrong classification. They had ‘Animal Farm’ in the wildlife section and science books in the science fiction section. They even had some fiction in the nonfiction section. And to top it all, they played instrumental versions of Hindi songs in the store: a cardinal sin according to me. But still, I was happy with having a whole new bookshop to play with.
After this, I went across the road to another café/bookshop that had sprung up as suddenly as a desert flower. This place, called CHEERS, was actually a lending-library/café. It was decorated like somebody’s living room. So I just sat there and browsed for a long time over coffee, and since there was no pressure to buy a book, it felt very comfortable. Except when they switched on the huge TV set which then somehow looked bigger than it did before and the noise of a movie being played at a loud volume made reading quite impossible. But I found out later that afternoons are the best time, and CHEERS is going to become my favourite place to hang out when I have time to kill.
While the regular bookshops didn’t quite do the thing, I was pleased to discover a marvelous second hand bookstore tucked away in a building that I had never been to, but had gone past at least a zillion times. The place is called BLOSSOMS, and in my opinion is Bangalore’s best second hand store. It’s the only second hand store where one can find multiple copies of the same book. And though the musty smell is missing because the store is just a few months old, the feel is right there. I went to this place a couple of times before I realised that I recognized the owner. I had seen him before maintaining a pavement bookstall, and had bought books from him innumerable times, but this two-year gap from Bangalore has scrambled my memory. Finally it clicked and I asked him and he said yes, and that he had recognized me. In this city of swirling faces, one can only be thankful that the booksellers know yours.