Apr 28, 2002


These days Barnes and Noble has become one of my favourite hang-outs. As I walk into this grand bookshop, serenity, contentment and a sense of well being engulf me. It brings to my mind images of a cold winter evening, crackling wood in the fireplace, a warm rug and a great book. I feel this even in the height of summer, perhaps because the first time I went to Barnes and Noble was one such evening.

I take a quick look at the bestseller section, then pause at the fictions, linger on at the classics, browse the magazines, wander around the specialities section, listen to the books on tape and finally settle with a dozen books on a cozy corner. Sometimes I indulge in a coffee and biscotti. I love the ability to assess the books undisturbed to see if they qualify to be on my shelf before I buy it. The crowd too has a lot of variety - students busy taking notes, dashing guys browsing automobile magazines, mothers dragging their children..

Every visit invariably reminds me of a bookshop back in Madurai. Until the modern bookstalls tookover with their posh looking interiors, Sarvodhaya Ilakkiya Pannai with its appealing name was the biggest bookshop there. It was a crammy little, not so bright place, that housed thousands of books. The books were rarely ordered and you dont have space to sit, let alone read. Back in the late eighties in Madurai, the book buying crowd was predominantly students, intellectual or pseudo intellectual types with a beard and a shoulder bag or those who buy one of those practical 'eppadi' books. I'd feel highly conscious in that crowd and will have a hard time trying to decide which book to buy out of the pocket money, my benevolent father bestowed upon me. But, it had its attractions. The bespectacled middle aged man in the cash counter, after your nth visit engages in small talk. If you are quite consistent in visiting the shop, sometimes you get information about which book is on print, which got sold out, which is really good, and directions to another crammier book shop where you are guaranteed to get that book you are searching. And after more visits you get a 10% discount and a smile of recognition. Perhaps he is still in that counter, I wonder if he remembers me. When I sit in a corner at B&N with soothing music filling the air, I miss the drone of the ceiling fans in a bookshop in another world, another era...

April 28, 2002