Not Just Another Bookstore

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I had paid one of my customary visits to Landmark this January. Everything- every single item- was on sale. I picked a few books and asked one of the shop assistants what the news was, where they shutting shop? I don’t know why- maybe it was the way I questioned him- I might have sounded like I might have started shrieking hysterically right there on knowing the truth- he gave me his tale of how this was their annual sale, yearly thing, no, they were not closing down.

A month later, there were these whispers floating around that the store most certainly was shutting down, and I wouldn’t bring myself to believe that either. After that, every time I drove down the main road, I would crane my neck to check the far end of Apex plaza, hoping for a glimpse of the black and white signboard. One fine day, that went down too.

I had been frequenting Landmark since the time I was, I think, four years old. My first Barbie, my first little pony- my first windows of escapades into imaginary lands conjured within my head, I had from Landmark. Soon, the books followed. Then, though, the books seemed very overpriced for a kid from a middle class family. I remember birthdays where we would walk around the store, the shelves towering above me, that smell of fresh, new books enveloping me. I would pick a Nancy Drew, look at the price and place it back thinking, okay, Daddy can get five such at Moore Market. Sometimes I would pick a book and open it and inhale the scent of the pages deeply, and from the corner of my eye catch an attendant watching me with a straight face, saying nothing, but making me grin sheepishly and replace the book. But on most of these birthdays, my parents would end up buying me ‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Some More Tell Me Why’, ‘Lots More Tell Me Why’ and ‘Here’s More Tell Me Why’ books, instead; but they were not too bad after all. At an age where I was hungrily devouring anything written, they did a load of good.

 After I started working, I stopped buying pirated books from Moore Market. The Landmark connect was re- established. For a while, I would saunter around, check the latest releases out, mentally evaluate how much I would save by ordering it on Flipkart, and walk out empty handed. That was until Landmark came up with its Buy 2 for 3 offers.  Every now and then, I would walk out with a pile of books. However now I was not wolfing them down like before. Attention spans were becoming shorter and I was becoming a lot choosier. Some books would be abandoned mid-way, some would be fast-forward read to the climax and then flung away. But the store would always welcome me, as if saying, ‘Okay, never mind, try this this time’

Once the sign board came down, I guessed that was the end of my favourite store. I still wouldn’t visit. Until today, that is, when my brother called me and said that Landmark had a flat 70% off sale on everything. They were still open! However, the entry was closed. We were ushered in through the exit. One entire half of the store was closed. Shut. Heart wrenching it was, guilt alternating with denial. It was as if a good friend was ailing and I kept putting off meeting her, and finally I work up the nerve to call on her, and here she is, dying.

It was just a book store, you might say. Well, yes, it does seem so. But it was more than that. Landmark was something like a link to my childhood, it was this zone where you could walk, hum along, plonk on a couch and read an entire book (I have done this) and not be questioned. It was a gateway to a million dreams and ideas. It was a comfortable place to be in, the smells, the polished wooden racks, the well-lit spaces and invisible attendants…you don’t get that feel in Star Mark or Crossword or Oxford. Not all of them exist today, nonetheless, the comparison still holds good.

And though there will always be Landmarks in Skywalk mall and Spencers and Citi Centre, they will never be like the first one at Apex plaza. As I got my purchases billed today (No galaxy chocolates lining the racks, no lollypops or toblerones inviting you to pick them up), I asked if there would be a new store coming up sometime soon. ‘We are still looking for the right place ma’am’ I was told. But that wouldn’t be this Landmark, either. And, after having been foolish enough to think that a bookstore was invincible, I must say, we deserve this. And there is nothing that we can do about it. 

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ABC Challenge #20: T for Taboo

Note- I believed I had posted this before I posted ‘U’. Anyway that is Airtel 3G internet stick for you.

Taboo. This word brings alive memories of a National Geographic show where the crew would tour the world and bring to the audience crazy ideas/ rituals/ practices followed by fellow human beings across distant lands. Nothing, technically, is taboo, when it has been done over the ages. And when you have watched your own parents follow similar practices, it doesn’t really seem very strange. Though you might question the whole logic behind it (there would be some, in some rusty corner of the activity; it would have been layered with myth after myth, over the years) you would just go on with it simply to appease your folks at home. There are some ideas which are super taboo that Nat Geo forgot to cover. These are prevalent in India, some specific ones- in my community/household.
From the day a girl is born, she is raised to be decent marriage material. ‘If you don’t study well, you won’t get a good job, and then who will marry you?’(Not- study well, because YOU need a job to support yourself) , ‘Learn to cook, after you get married you will need to cook for a whole family’ (Not, does cooking interest you? There is so much to learn and it can be so much fun!), ‘ If your brother asks for a toy, give it! You will need to sacrifice so much more after your marriage!’ (Not- giving is love. Give, so it makes you happy)
She must stick to safe professions. After all, who would want to arrange a marriage with a girl who is an astronaut or archaeologist or wildlife researcher? (Women in these professions don’t marry and don’t procreate, apparently)
Travelling on your own? Are you mad? No!
Travelling with just another girl for company? So unsafe- No way!
Travelling with a boy? Oh god, who would marry you after that?!!
You could get away with being mean, selfish or just plain evil. But. If you, by any chance, happen to not be a virgin…That will be the end of any dreams of a decent marriage that you might be harbouring (there, everything boils down to the M word)
If reading all this makes you think, damn, it must be really sad being born a girl in this part of the world- bang on! In some remote places, the female child is only taboo.
Well, it is difficult. But we still manage to trudge on. Looking pretty, with a smile on the face. A thousand dreams shattered, ten thousand others left undreamed. But we will always hope 🙂 That, thankfully, isn’t taboo yet.

ABC Challenge #21: U for Up

All our lives, we can’t wait to grow up, to move to the next level. When we were toddlers, we couldn’t wait to get to school. At school, we couldn’t wait to go to college. Couldn’t wait to get the ‘love of our lives’. Then we couldn’t wait to make our own money. Buy our own car. Get the next promotion. It has always been a race, and the climb up has always been enticing. The promise of something better than now keeps egging us upward, like it should, I must add!

Right now, I would say that I am at a place I am proud to be at. From the outside, it looks fascinating. At any given point, I believe, any role that is not yours looks incredibly interesting, but I digress. This blog was about what I feel, from up here.

There is more time. There is more stress too, though. There is the privilege of getting some help with work, but it comes with responsibility of ensuring that the work is up to standards. Time flies. Very fast. Yesterday, a colleague and I were talking about how we had begun losing track of places we had been to on work, hotels we had stayed in. It has become a jumble of flights and travel plans, check ins and check outs, complimentary breakfasts and corporate in-flight meals. These days, sandwiches make me retch, and innumerable boxes of cup noodles have given me the ability to just imagine the taste in my mouth.  Travelling light has become an art. In my sleep I can list the number of items I carry in my vanity case, and with one glance can figure out what is missing. From being somebody who has carried three kurtis and conveniently forgotten her denims that she intended to wear them with- I have come a long way. Sometimes, I have dreams featuring numbers and revenue figures. They dance around a bush (me) and give me a headache. Despite all that, most times all I want to do is sleep. All the eating out side is taking its toll on me and as I am genetically fine-tuned to accumulate all my body fat on my middle, I see the waist line increase embarrassingly, to the point where my best friend told me, ‘okay, 30 days to my wedding and that is all the time you got to get toned!’ There is no time for men, if there is anybody remotely interesting though, I think he either gets intimidated or I get bored, or he gets bored or I get into my crazy-me mode. There is no effort because there is simply no stamina, really! But there is a lot of time to hit the spa. And a lot of money to pay at the gym and skip it. Owing to all the travel. More guilt.

As I type this from yet another hotel room, this time in Trivandrum, I realize, the laptop has become my current best friend. My friend in need. With all the movies it has been crammed with. And MS Word. And the magical internet stick. I realize-in horror, that I don’t need much more, right here, right now.

It makes you crazy, remember how they warned you against the altitude? Contrary to that though, it is a High pressure zone. But the beauty is just breathtaking. You start reinventing yourself to adapt to the milieu. Every day is a new challenge, every next step is victory. This new you- you wouldn’t recognize her after a point..but keep telling yourself, it is all for the good!

ABC Challenge #19: S for Serendipity

Because the work place is supposed to have a ‘British’ connect, (and because the idea is damn cool), we have large framed photos of English authors citing that one word that they feel is the best word in the language. I sit diagonally opposite Sinead Morrissey whose favourite word is ‘incandescent’.

Mine would be Serendipity.

However, a plain meaning like ‘Finding something good without looking for it’ does not do justice to the way one feels, while actually finding something good while not looking for it. The feel is surreal, the goosebumps tingle their way out of your skin, a non-existent breeze whooshes by, and you imagine Paulo Coelho whisper into your ear, ‘THAT is the entire universe is conspiring to help you achieve what you want’.

I have felt my breath lock itself in my chest, my senses freeze, and the universe stop.

Though, intuitively, I am told, I ought to know if this was THE man/book/dress/phrase that I was looking for all my life, I have never quite been right about it most of the time. Yet, the sense of having reached there, that feeling of not needing to search any more, the sensation – or I should say, vague, superficial, hope of rest that the mind almost believes in- that is the beauty of serendipity.

And even though it has been experienced multiple times, like when a chance skimming of the newspaper carries a tidbit of information that I desperately needed, when somebody I barely knew but felt like I had known forever chose to sit next to me in a stadium full of people, when we got lost in Goa only to follow the road which led to the most beautiful, silent beach ever..those are times when words fail you, and there is an increased longing for more.

And ironic as it might seem, though serendipity means going about your life not looking for what you are searching, but happening to chance on it and feeling like your heart would explode, it teaches us to start hoping for an encounter, to start praying for a miracle. Maybe, eventually, when such experiences seem to have a déjà vu ring to them, there will be that one event that would throw you off your feet. And then you would say, ‘Yes, that, my friend, was serendipitous’. Amen to that.

PS- when the rest of the world has just commenced, and is feverishly typing away for the ABC challenge, here I am, continuing what was started last year, and going about in my own sweet pace. Let’s say I aim to finish with this years contenders 🙂