Books, filter coffee, and cakes…

Choosing another worldLalitha Lakshmi and Subodh SankarPhotos: (cover and centrespread) Sreenivasa Murthy V.

Choosing another worldLalitha Lakshmi and Subodh SankarPhotos: (cover and centrespread) Sreenivasa Murthy V.  

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Bang in the middle of Koramangala, Subodh and Lakshmi have their two-storeyed, beautiful heritage home. “We moved into an apartment a couple of years ago. Both of us were averse to the idea of converting this place into a PG accommodation or a service apartment. When we set out thinking, we felt it has to be a bookstore,” the couple recall. Certainly not a run-of-the-mill bookstore. Why not a regional languages bookstore? “On so many occasions, when we were looking for a Tamil book, we've had to really go hunting for it. A bookstore selling regional language books in a cosmopolitan city makes a lot of sense,” says Subodh.

But it's a minority that reads and speaks in their mother tongue. “Making perfect business sense was not our sole idea. We are fortunate to have enough to live on and don't want to get rich through this bookstore. Having said that I am also not willing to jump into conclusions about shrinking interest in the mother tongue. Let's keep it open,” says Lakshmi positively. Subodh takes the opportunity to narrate a recent happening. “It was just the other day, I was lounging in my easy chair, and this rather young chap comes on a macho bike asking for books. I was so sure he had made the wrong stop. And to my surprise, he bought Kannada books worth Rs. 1200! Someone even came up asking for the complete collection of Poornachandra Tejaswi. ” In fact, when Subodh had insisted that they get a market survey done to find out if there would be takers for their bookstore, Lakshmi was staunchly against the idea. It was an uphill effort and it took them 13 months to put the store together. “We don't want to be a Landmark or a Crossword. In a way defining our store has helped,” adds Lakshmi.

The stunning bookstore, bathing in the shade of silver oak trees, has a fair collection in Kannada and Tamil, and is slowly building up a collection in other languages. The earthy shop in three levels, infused with bright ceramic and vibrant handloom upholstery, gives you the comfort of a home – desi and unaffected. “Soon we will have a movie section. It will be catalogued and put online.” Simultaneously, they also plan to include a section on translations, “we are going to have a panel that will help us put together a fine collection.”

It's important to enlarge the community of readers, and to get them interested in writings of other languages. Subodh and Lakshmi have planned a series of readings, poetry and story telling sessions, which will not only make possible an interaction with a diverse group of readers, but also culturally sensitise a reader to other languages. “I am a Tamilian, but I would certainly want to be in the audience of a Kannada reading,” says Subodh. Books are not about reading alone, it's about an experience, enjoying the sounds and textures of other languages, feel the couple. “Our space is available to others who share our views. It could be visual arts, performing arts… anything. We will charge them a registration fee, and once the event is over, the money can be redeemed for books,” they explain.

Soon they will launch Writer of the Month programme. “We will celebrate a writer for a month and have a month-long exhibition of all his works.” Atta Galatta has a reading section as well. People can spend time in the reading room for as long as they wish to. “Many people have called and offered us their books for the reading room. We hope to have a curated section in the reading room which brings books and readers of diverse interests to the shop,” says Subodh.

Subodh and Lakshmi are putting together their Café as well. “Initially, we wanted the bookstore and café to take off together. But we feared people would identify this as a café with a bookstore. So we staggered it a bit.” The café will have bread, cup cakes and traditional filter coffee. “They will be homemade and of short shelf life,” Subodh adds immediately.

The excitement is visible. There are hundreds of plans in the pipeline – “the most important thing is to build a community”, and nobody disagrees with them.

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