“The city is an old friend, perhaps even an old lover. She and I both know how life has changed the other. There is no need of words, so we let them drop. Her new fancies stare me in the face – her love of brick and mortar, of steel and glass, her soaring new flyovers, the rising stadiums, her shiny new metro, her multiplexes and malls. And I shield myself against the callousness with which she has rejected so much that we once shared – my little theatre café, my corner shop, and my favorite bookshop, owned by a man who knew his books.”
This is an excerpt from “Second Thoughts” by Navtej Sarna. The writer beautifully summarizes as he sips from his cup of nostalgia – “The cities that we truly love are the cities of our minds“. We might lose physical structures, but we can always hold on to memories.
As a seventy year old bookstore downed its shutters for the last time, another light has Dimmed for bibliophiles the world over. For it is not just a particular city that has lost its legacy, but the literary world that has lost another home. The Strand Book Stall went through losses the past few years since the founder had passed away. His daughter who was managing other branches of the outlet (relatively newer ones, that were barely open for a couple of years in comparison to the seven decade old original structure), shut them down to focus on the main one. The beloved bookstore derived its name from the Strand Cinema, a movie house that had let out some space to the founder to put up a kiosk with a few books. Such was the owners knowledge of the books he sold, that his regular patrons kept coming back for his recommendations. Eventually he moved out of the cinema, to a larger space a little distance away. And his loyal customers followed him there.
Strand was known for its stand on “purely books”. It never succumbed to the marketing strategies employed by other chain bookstores to sell toys, stationery and other such miscellaneous merchandise. And book lovers adored the book stall for this reason. Since the founder’s death, they had stopped stocking up new books, resulting in only the regular patrons who continued to visit faithfully and recommended it to family and friends. The reasons cited were increased dependence on e-readers and e-books that take up less storage space, enable one to carry thousands of books at a time, read in the dark, download books as soon as the thought pops into one’s head, change font sizes and brightness, and make reading as personalized as possible. Another reason was, even those who shun reading on devices and prefer paperbacks, still buy from online portals that offer huge discounts and deliver books at the doorstep.
Unable to keep up with digitization, the call was ultimately taken to close forever on the founder’s death anniversary, the 27th of February. But Strand will remain standing strong in our minds and hearts – the light may be Dim, but the flame hasn’t extinguished. Just like all the other stand-alone bookstores that have closed over the years, and might continue to shut down in the years to come. For those of us who love the entire act of browsing through shelves, interacting with fellow readers, taking recommendations from knowledgeable staff, and spending lazy weekend afternoons, or the entire weekend if we choose to, nothing can take away the happiness of being physically present in the company of books.