Save the bookstore!

For my last birthday I had gotten a 1000 rupee gift voucher of Odyssey book store from my aunt. Normally I would have used the coupon and bought a couple of books within the week, but that was a brief period when I felt my time was too important to be spent on reading books. How mistaken was I?
Any how, I ended up not using the voucher for almost 11 months and managed to find it today when I was going through some old stuff in my cupboard. It was about to expire in a month.
Since I was back to my book-loving ways, I eagerly google-mapped for the nearest Odyssey bookstore and discovered one quite close by in Nungabakkam.
A share-auto ride later, I was at the exact same spot where google maps told me to expect the store, but all i could see was 'Mermaids - underwear for fancy women'.
Confused and slightly unnerved, i tried the phone number given in google maps, but it turned out to be a dud. I tried to visit the store's website, but it was down due to maintenance. with no more information online, I spent about an hour roaming around trying to run into Odyssey's once familiar red interiors and signboards.
finally i gave up and came back home, but my neurotic self just could not stop and i contacted just-dial to get the latest contact numbers for all the odyssey bookstores in Chennai. Of all the ones i got, all but one turned out to be useless. Finally i got through to a store manager of the Odyssey bookstore on ECR, which is really really far away from my home. He told me that the store in Nungambakkam, Anna Nagar and Egmore had been closed over six months back. Now only two stores were operating, one in Adyar and his own store.
i dont know why but this made me really sad. I cannot begin to count the number of hours i would have spent in bookstores such as Odyssey, Landmark, Oxford and Higginbothams. in fact, i have spent whole days just sitting in a corner of a bookstore and going over a novel. Some of my best childhood memories are from such shops. and today to see them falling, one at a time, just makes very sad for the coming generation of kids. Dont mistake me, i do not expect reading to decline, as some scientists fret about. au contraire, i think that in this age of ceaseless multimedia inputs, kids will quickly realize the slow and relaxing pleasure of a book.
the thing i worry about the most is the process of buying a book. You see, before the age of the internet, one found out about great books from the newspapers. In my case, the Literature Review section of The Hindu. I used to read the reviews of books and decide which ones i wanted to buy. the next step would be the trip to the nearby bookstore and go over the book, the author and most importantly, the price. If i had a birthday or Diwali coming up, i would note the book's price and inform all my relatives about it so that they would give me the moolah to get it.finally, once my coffers were overflowing, i would rush to the same bookstore and buy the book, only to start reading it even while waiting in the billing queue. This whole process would be spread over days or weeks, sometimes even months. During which, i would have spent many an hour, lounging in the book store, looking through new titles and authors, sneaking a peek at prohibited books or just marveling at the sheer number of books that i had not read yet. i think half the pleasure of reading the new book was in idling around in the book store.
Sadly today, the process of buying a book has been made indecently easy thanks to online portals such as Flipkart and Amazon. In all fairness, i love the convenience of these sites and now that money is not an issue for me, i have bought over a hundred books from flipkart, most of them spur of the moment purchases. After a wait of a few days, I get my book with utterly non-Indian efficiency.
But if the death of cherished bookstores is what it takes for online bookstores to succeed, then i am not too sure about that.
We cannot just let the quaint little bookstore die. I know that in a capitalistic market, it is always the survival of the fittest but when it comes to matters of the heart, such as the joy of reading, sometimes you have to stand for your beliefs, even if they dont make commercial sense.
In my opinion, bookstores are a vital fabric for a fulfilled life, but they will have to adapt to these newer times. just as online food deliveries have not killed off fine dining restaurants, book stores too will have to change. book stores must now offer things that flipkart and amazon cannot. the answer is easy, the human element. book stores need to give that human touch to the process of selecting and buying a book. maybe organize informal book meets, call in trending authors for an afternoon chat, have more informed sales personnel who can do more than just pick out the book from the top shelves.
There is much that can be done by bookstores to survive and flourish in this digital-shopping age but they can definitely use a helping hand from folks like me, who have got a lot out of them. Maybe if we made sure that every second book we buy is not from the net and from the neighborhood bookstore; maybe if we decided to reserve the net only for the difficult to find, rare editions; maybe if we can take our kids, nephews and nieces to the nearby bookstore and let them experience the joy of reading and exploring the vast stacks of books then maybe and just maybe, we can save the physical bookstores from getting gobbled up by their virtual cousins.

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