By the time I came to know Gangarams is the oldest bookstore in Bangalore I had visited it a few times. It is located on MG Road which is close to my office on Residency Road and whenever I had time I walked from my office to visit the bookstore. I liked it for several reasons. It's different from flashy bookstores we find in malls which I also like but for other reasons.
Gangarams has a sizable staff for a store that's not too specious and they never bother you even if you are a casual browser who will mostly likely not buy anything. Over the years I have been visiting Gangarams, I have bought some books and many magazines from the bookstore but most of my visits were for casual browsing. I just love doing that.
When you are new to Gangarams, the staff may appear a little intruding, not because they mean to be intrusive – in fact they want to leave you your space – but because there are too many of them and as the bookstore is not very big you will find one of them standing in any direction you see giving you the impression that they are keeping an eye on you, how much of a book you are reading, whether you are trying to shoplift, etc. But that's not true.
Even in the glitzy bookstores in malls, the staff mostly leaves you alone, but that you can attribute to their modern shop-management methodology, while Gangarams is too old and old-fashioned to adopt (or even bother to) such sleek strategies to convert casual browsers into buyers. For them leaving book explorers alone, even if that doesn’t lead to any sale, is part of their value for customer service.
Gangarams has five to six shelves of books running end to end of the shop forming narrow aisles where you walk and browse books.
Another reason I like Gangarams is that it's completely unorganized. Books are not arranged based on themes or authors - expect in some parts of the shop - but just piled together. This disheveled look gives it a certain scholarly and old-world charm. I frequent many bookstores but I owe my soft spot to Gangarams, I think, to its informal appearance which makes you feel at home. It has many elderly loyal visitors who, I am sure, prefer Gangarams to other bookstores. I had once seen an old lady accompanied by her son who was visiting India from the US.
However, the love for the old somewhere led to reluctance to adapt to the new for Gangarams. They retained not just the old values but also refused to pick up new practices. I had placed a book order with Gangarams and two, three days later when I had called them to check if the book had arrived they seemed to not even remember that I had placed an order. I Googled to check if Gangarams has any website and didn’t find any (if you know, please let me know).
Gagnarams is not the first and certainly not the last bookstore that’s closing down. It’s part of a new global trend triggered by e-books and chain stores taking over the book retail business and eating up standalone shops that are finding it difficult to compete with their financial firepower and reach. But with each Gangarams shutting shop something of the old Bangalore (or any city) will be lost forever.
Old bookstores, just like old buildings and shop and markets, contribute to the character of a city. They form the landscape that reminds you of the bygone, without which you lose your point of reference to the past. I came to Bangalore some seven years back and Gangarams was part of my life, sharing space with other bookstores I visit, for a little more than three years. But Gangarams being so old, there would be those who would have been visiting it for half of their lives. I am sure that elderly lady – and many like her- will miss Gangarams more than I will.