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Bengaluru’s great big book industry

Bengaluru is home to writers from novelist Anita Nair to historian Ramachandra Guha, has seen bookstores such as Blossoms, Gangarams and Bookworm grow into legendary institutions and has its share of libraries and book clubs. Recently, both Blossom and Bookworm have set up bigger stores in the city. We explore what makes Bengaluru such a delight for book lovers and authors alike.

On a cool Saturday afternoon, architect Radhika Sethi is sifting through a collection of books and finally fishes out an old copy of Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide at the new Bookworm store on Church street. “It is not the same as getting a new copy. I love the smell and feel of old books. Blossoms and Bookworm are my favourite haunts since I get the best books and discover something new every time I come. If all your book purchases are online, you will not move beyond the bestsellers.

Krishna Gowda, who owns Bookworm says, “I think the older book sellers have survived in the city because of the personal connect we bring in our dealings with the customers. There is a tiny bookstore in Jayanagar that gets visitors from across the city, because the owners always offer recommendations and discounts.”

He adds, “Second hand books remain our USP. People buy only the bestsellers online. They tend to come to the store to pick up other books. We have a mix of readers, from those picking up commercial fiction such as Chetan Bhagat and Ravindar Singh to those that read classics and non fiction. We have started to conduct meetups and events featuring popular authors. It generates more footfalls and increases interest in books, especially among children. I hope to start a book club soon."

For Vani Mahesh, who founded Easylib.in in 2001, an online library was an obvious choice. “The internet was fairly new then. I have always felt that it was important to have an online presence. In Bengaluru, stand alone book stores such as Blossoms and Bookworm has always had a strong fan following. Second hand books have helped them survive, despite tough competition from online stores such as Flipkart. Now, with book discounts considerably reduced on online platforms, these book stores have a fresh lease of life. Many of our customers also pick up stuff that is not available online yet.”

Talking about Bengaluru being a haven for book aficionados, she contends, “I feel that Bengaluru is a hub for book lovers and writers alike because of its cosmopolitan nature. It has a sophisticated readership with plenty of exposure to writing and books from across the world. I feel that it is important that parents inculcate reading habits among children. Many serious readers prefer borrowing books to buying them, which keeps libraries relevant as well.”

Vani points out, “I think the trend of setting novels and stories in Indian cities is relatively new in Indian English writing. Many Indians writing in English were often confused about setting the story in an Indian city. That trend is changing now and I am sure in a few years, you will have many more books in English set in Bengaluru.”

Giving his insights into Bengaluru being a bibliophiles delight, author Shashi Warrier says, “In the 80s, Brigade Road used to be practically deserted on Sunday mornings. You’d find people selling used books at the most unlikely places, on staircases outside closed offices, in little nooks beside office buildings, and, of course, on the pavement. You picked up your books and went off to Koshy’s for a relaxed breakfast, usually amongs elderly regulars who sat for hours over a cup of coffee. If you felt adventurous, you could explore Chickpet, where you’d find lots of dusty old paperbacks, the occasional gem in obscure corners. In the decades that followed, the city became a diverse amalgam of cultures and home to many writers such as Anita Nair, Shashi Deshpande, Ramachandra Guha and many others. It is the rich setting, with the diversity and action that a writer might need that makes this city so popular among book lovers...”

“...I have personally set large parts of two my books in Bengaluru, Night of the Krait, back in the 1990s, and, over two decades later, The Man Who Wouldn’t be God.”Mayi Gowda, the owner of Blossoms says, “As the population has increased, I have seen demands for books go up. I started out with a tiny 200 square foot shop. We are now so full of books that we decided to start a new store that is more spacious and allows us to expand. It has been a great journey. Reading is a community activity and I feel that only book stores offer one a space to explore and learn about new books. It is one of the main reasons that despite the online boom, book stores in the city have held their own.”

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 6:11:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Bengaluru%E2%80%99s-great-big-book-industry/article16073975.ece

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