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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

The death of the local bookstore

Chitvan Singh Dhillon, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, December 21, 2013
First Published: 09:38 IST(21/12/2013) | Last Updated: 10:09 IST(21/12/2013)

The world of book trade is witnessing an outlandish paradox. Though as readers our appetite for reading has augmented by leaps and bounds and publishing houses are flourishing, the disturbing trend is the demise of our favourite local bookstores.

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It was a few weeks ago that my childhood friend Rishabh, a voracious reader and logophile, and I visited Chandigarh's Sector 17 plaza after ages only to find that our beloved Capital Book Depot was nowhere to be seen! We exchanged worried glances. Just to be doubly sure we asked a passerby about the book shop.

Much to our relief she told us that it had been relocated to the first floor of the same building. It was painful to see how our beloved bookstore, which had acquired an iconic stature in the span of half a century, was now one-fourth the size of what it used to be. We found the variety of books had shrunk and designer stationery, including posh writing instruments, fancy toys and other such stuff had made a place for itself.

I presume the internet has played a spoilsport. The stiff competition from e-commerce platforms such as flipkart.com has indeed come as a blow to the already stagnating business of books. Progressively, people are buying off the Internet, not just for higher discounts but presumably its time-saving and bereft of the hassle of parking. Buying the latest bestseller is just a click away!

Notwithstanding the heights that e-commerce businesses have scaled today, I personally feel the charm of having to visit your quintessential local bookstore is truly unparalleled. What bookstores offer is personalised service, something which online shopping doesn't.

The pleasure of going through various titles by hand, reading a page or two, sharing a warm conversation with a fellow customer, a word of advice on the latest releases and bestsellers by the owner himself is something only a visit to the bookstore can offer.

Technology can't take the place of sitting in an aisle scanning your latest find. You can't bring your stack of treasures to a cash register with a smile on your face at an e-commerce platform. You can click buttons, it can give you suggestions based on recent searches or purchases but you can't have a fascinating tête-à-tête or bond over your favourite reads.

I am glad I was exposed to the world of books at a very young age. I thank my parents and maternal grandmother for that. Sundays meant a visit to the Sector 17 plaza and of course a customary visit to the bookstore, exploring the wooden shelves full of books.

As time has wound its way through the cosmic clock, no longer do I find children pestering their parents to visit the local bookstore. I shudder to think what life without bookstores would be. A few words that instantly come to mind are: cold, gloomy and depressing.

Change, they say, is to be expected. Just the other day my maternal grandmother sent me an SMS saying, "Please order 'The Exile' and 'Zafarnama' on flipkart for me." I just let out a laugh.

However, I must confess, I'll be even more upset knowing that I contributed to the downfall. There are certain things technology improves, but books and bookstores are perfect just as they are.

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