Today, I took a turn about the Strand Book Fair at Bajaj Hall, Nariman Point. There was a time, back during my college days, when I would count the days until the book fair and saved up pocket money for my No. 1 indulgence. There were some amazing deals back in the day – books piled upon books, some obscure titles, all at throw-away prices. It was fun rummaging through them and collecting a whole bunch of treasures. Today (and it has been the case recently) seeing that pitiful selection of books lined up on tables spine up, face down, sorted according to a rather unintelligible system, it made me feel sad. I felt a compulsion to buy – just coz I was there, I even picked a couple of titles up, but then put them down again. Ironically, I can indulge myself now, but the temptation is much lower. Either I have lost the maniacal desire to own that a literature student always has, or the fair was just plain boring. I’d rather go with the latter – a sign that kindles are winning over books. A shoe sale will have hordes of women pushing and shoving in an unlady-like fashion to get to that perfect stiletto. Even the plant and bonsai garden sale on Marine Drive garners more attention than the once-popular Strand Book Fair.
And it’s not just that the prices are not really tempting – it’s a bit of a sham. The discounts on the books are what is regularly offered by them in their store and by others for regular buyers. The ones with the mega deals are hardly visible. The hall looks dull and lifeless, like the line of titles not even bothering to vie for attention. Books have NEVER made me feel so dismal as the book fair has today.
We were recently was discussing how Danai in Bandra has a certain old
book store charm and character and how big chain stores lack that
feeling. I go to Crossowrds to grab a coffee and maybe a book. I would
go to Danai to find the book that I can’t elsewhere. Also, it is
amazing how those who run a book store have no idea where their books
are. Oxford, case in point, at Churchgate. Their staff is clueless
about the books. A big book store is just that – a shop with books. A
book shop should have real charm and character, where you can chat
with the staff knowledgebly, the owner will participate because
reading and knowledge shouldn’t be commercialised. I guess that’s what
the movie You’ve Got Mail was about. It’s happening here now, and
there’s nothing we can do to stop the art of reading becoming the
front of the salesman.