Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stationery Shops Don't Move

Premier bookshop closed down some time ago as its owner was unable to pay the high rent demanded. Now it's Gangaram's turn. The bookstore and stationery shop (owned by two brothers) are winding down; the bookshop may reappear but the stationery shop is unlikely to.

Stationery shops don't move, a friend of mine said. And I console myself with this small joke. Landlords are asking for 30 lakhs a month (that is 3 million rupees). I bumped into Atmaram (owner of Gangaram's Stationery) yesterday. I was walking towards his shop and he was walking away from it. Not forever, but just to deliver some books, as it was the last official working day of the year for him. I wanted his advice on publishing some of my books (he is a publisher too). He asked me to accompany him while he delivered his books so we could chat on the way.

Of course, these by the way conversations and invitations are forthcoming only in an old Bangalore spirit. And they are likewise accepted. For who else but old Bangaloreans would walk down, to the beginning of busy M.G. (Mahatma Gandhi) road that leads to the church grounds (where his car is parked) and spend the morning driving in the heat, delivering books? Why not get someone else to do it? And why accompany someone who has to do this kind of stuff? Utter lunacy, but there we were, driving down to the Governor's residence (where some books were off loaded amidst suspicious looking security agents) and then to the tiny, crowded lanes of Gandhinagar, where some more books were offloaded in officious government buildings. We celebrated the end of this assignment by drinking large amounts of fresh coconut water bought from a coconut vendor near M.G. road.

We spoke of this and that - the hazards of publishing, Atmaram's great desire to relax and retire (but will he do it?), the difficulty of finding people to take over a prosperous stationery store. The internet has made so many aspects of our lives redundant; a mere handful of people buy cards, wrapping paper and fancy stationery nowadays. Finding good staff is hard too. Inevitably, at some stage, these individualized stores wind down.

Who would pay so much in rent for a shop? I look around M.G. Road and wonder. Parking on the road is out of the question but with the new metro station just opposite, the area is quite accessible. Chain stores are doing well as are fast food restaurants and jewellery stores. Over time old Bangalore is being dumbed down, its nooks and crannies smoothened out by the impersonal hand of retail chains. An iron fist, well sheathed.

So, art stores are not artful enough, bookshops have no bookings and - stationery shops don't move. They just suddenly vanish.

P.S. I just read that Casa Picola, the Indian-Italian restaurant (which I didn't frequent, but plenty of people did, for decades) is winding down, for the same reason. And have just recalled that the wonderful old houses behind India Garage (which housed two or three generations of old Bangaloreans and some close friends) are going to be pulled down to make way for a spanking new mall. And Hesserghetta, a large water reservoir and surrounding grassland (where we used to swim or just sit or walk about), might be contracted out to companies to make a film theme park. Sigh! are we heading the right way?


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