“Had I been left to my own devices, I would have continued running a rundown bookshop into oblivion, bleeding till I could bleed no more,” said Ajitvikram Singh after deciding to shut his iconic bookshop in a posh south Delhi location. But as with many such landmarks of the past, compulsions of business and demand are pushing bookshops out of fashionable areas into lesser-known ones or to close shop altogether.
With this bookstore too closing its pages forever, Delhiites have lost more than a venue to buy books. They have lost a place where they could while away time, turning the pages of books, savouring the tumble of words, and maybe not even buy one in the end. If they were so inclined, the person at the counter of traditional bookshops could guide them to other books of interest, even tell them where a particular book or periodical would be available.
But a book-loving community is still thriving and this explains the heartfelt outpouring of regret and nostalgia when bookshops shut down or relocate to less accessible locations.
Over the years, pavement booksellers and popular bookstore chains, which were once seen in most market places, railway stations (AH Wheeler and Higginbothams) and airports, also took the hint.
Places that once let people just leaf through books, from regional literature, pulp fiction, non-fiction, comics and general knowledge books, started disappearing or crunched their stocks to showcase more best-sellers and self-help tomes for the ‘masses’. And of course, today for each book lover, an equal if not a higher number of people prefer to search online for titles than actually go to bookshops and ‘waste’ time looking for what they want.
Growing up in an age of a massive technological transition, I too am guilty of resorting to buying discounted books online. I am an e-reader who perhaps still likes to buy books but not read them as much as I should.
But it is really too early to write off the bookshop.
There is still a longing to see a book, leaf through a few pages before actually acquiring it, something the online experience does not afford.
As space gets more scarce in both homes and public spaces, the way to go will eventually be e-books. But in countries like India where literacy is growing, this is still a way off.
The proof is in the number of public libraries that dot smaller towns and cities. The books may not be all of great quality, but people do come and take them out to read. Change is inevitable, but we can turn the page on that another day hopefully.