Kitab Khana

We need to save our Bookstores STAT!

The other day, my 5 yo daughter dragged us to Kitab Khana — a legendary bookstore housed in a gorgeous part of Mumbai, popularly known as Fountain.

We were just done with a very heavy lunch of Gujarati thali, and were in no mood to make the effort, sacrificing our Saturday afternoon snooze, to browse thorugh ‘books’. Browse, because we, like you, ‘buy’ books online.

But I am glad we listened to a 5 yo because it brought back perspective into our lives.

Books, unlike many other things, give more than they ask. And we re-realised that on Saturday afternoon.

I’d never seen my daughter so excited about anything. And that is saying a lot because, like me, she is atomic, and needs to be doing something or the other. But books?, i wasn’t quite sure and boy was i wrong!

Kitab Khana, like many of its long gone compatriots, houses books on many topics from literature for young adults to history and religion and everything in between. The little one had been there once before, with her grandparents (who are the real heroes here), and she knew exactly where the store was located (gasp!) and which section was for her.

For the next 5 hours that we were there, I realised a few things:

  1. Bookstore are more than just a place that sell books. They encourage reading. They encourage exploration and feed curiosity. Kitab Khana has a small, yet comfortable section for kids, equipped with only a floor mat and lots of books for children, within easy reach. There is no hurry or pressure to buy. You could lounge there all day reading without anyone asking you to move. This environment is very hard to replicate anywhere else, especially at home. It is very important that young minds and readers be exposed to such an environment, early on, so that they can pick up reading as a life skill.
  2. Bookstores are the perfect remedy for poor attention spans. And I’ve seen that with myself, and now with my daughter. Nothing engages a person more than books.
  3. Every bookstore has a friendly ghost. I’ve long held this belief. I seldom go to a bookstore with a specific title in mind to buy. And in less than an hour i am overwhelmed with the choices before me. It is precisely at this moment when the friendly spirit guides my decision. Some title, tucked in a corner will catch your attention, and IT will be exactly what you need.
  4. At every Bookstore you will meet that one person, who seems to have devoted his life to reading. At Kitab Khana, we ran into this gentleman, who is an architect by profession, but loves to teach literature at a college. He was the perfect embodiment of someone who derives joy from the written word.

Over the last few years, many bookstores had to shut shop due to unit economics pressure from e-commerce giants, who could affords to sell us books at 35%+ discounts!

And i’m guilty too.

Bookstores, on an average have begun offering discounts of upto 20% on most titles. This is about 10% lesser than what i’d get online. Substantial savings for a bookworm like me.

But at what cost?

I do not want bookstores to die. I want them to be around when our kids grow up, and a million other things will vie for their attention. There are a few folks like us, who would prefer buying a book from a store than an online store, if it ensures their sustenance.

I urge you to visit bookstores more often, and spend time there. Encourage your kids too, and their friends. Buy books to gift. Buy books to give.

Buy books from bookstores, so that when you and i are long gone, our next generations will still thank us for leaving behind places, where time can stand still, and things still make sense.

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