Thursday, March 29, 2012

Goodbye, Gangarams

For a few weeks I have been hearing that Gangarams will close down. Today I went to the bookstore and found a notice outside, actually a note of parting by the owner which emotionally thanked Gangarams’ customers and bade them goodbye and asked them to visit the store one last time before it closes.

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.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Iron Lady - A Great Biopic

Usually, I am not my own man when it comes to choosing the movie I want to watch. The choice is mostly driven by public opinion, newspaper reviews and Tweeter posts. But the problem is most times these opinions are divided on a movie. The Iron Lady, however, is an exception in this regard. It has been attracting praise both in organized and social media. Last week I watched the movie.

I liked the movie but I was reluctant to write about it because writing about the movie would also include writing about Meryl Streep’s performance as Thatcher and I, not having seen much of Thatcher during her days, am not familiar with Thatcher enough to assess how close was Streep’s Thatcher to the real thing.

But having read about her and seen her photos, I had a mental image of Margaret Thatcher and Meryl’s enactment seemed very close to that picture – the gait, composure, style of speaking and subtle changes in personality after Margaret Thatcher’s taking up of a bigger role in national politics. However, my post-viewing Youtube investigation revealed that Streep’s Thatcher’s style of speaking slightly differed with that of the original Iron Lady.

Meryl’s role moves back and forth between two phases of Thatcher’s life: one, an old and frail Thatcher now ailing from dementia; two, a vigorous young political leader on the rise. The narrative is anchored around Thatcher’s old age, a retired public figure spending her last days reminiscing about her past glories, and visits various phases of her life, from childhood and adolescence to her rise in public life, in flashback.

The movie is something to remember not just for its cinematic merits but also the dramatic life of its protagonist – Margaret Thatcher, who, from humble origins (a grocer’s daughter), rose to become one of the most charismatic prime ministers of her country. Thatcher’s political career lends itself naturally to movie because it coincided with many a crisis Britain went through – the Argentinean transgression on the Falklands island, IRA terrorism, economic problems, etc. Her dealing of all these crises explains her sobriquet – The Iron Lady, which, incidentally, was given by Russians.

Margaret had a tough upbringing. She used to manage her father’s grocery shop and didn’t have too many friends. She, in fact, was a quite an odd girl with a studious personality. Her political education started early in conservative political discipline and her conservative convictions grew deeper and deeper as she grew up. Although her initial brush with the world of power and the powerful was not without its awkward moments due to her unassuming upbringing, gradually she became comfortable, came into her own as a leader and handled important portfolios in the Conservative government.

The movie has its moments. It starts with Thatcher shopping in a departmental store with Panjabi songs playing in the background to convey the hybrid culture with a dominant presence of Punjabis in the current day Britain. It delivers its surprises and plot twists smartly. I conservative party leader close to Margaret is suddenly killed in a car bomb, planted by IRA, a few seconds after he had told Margaret bye on his way out of the parking zone. Margaret was considering standing for party leadership election; the bomb blast steels her resolve. Similarly, there are other moments you will enjoy as you watch it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Reading Alexander Pushkin's poems

I am not an inveterate poetry reader but I do enjoy poetry once in a while. Some years ago I had bought a translation of Urdu poetry by Khushwant Singh and had enjoyed them. Last month a collection of poems by Vikram Seth – Rivered Earth - drew my attention. I bought it and liked all the poems, some translations of ancient Chinese poems with the historical incidents on which the poems were based explained and others poems on Indian mythological characters and various other themes. All of them were good.

Last Saturday I bought a collection by Alexander Pushkin, a 19th century Russian poet. Pushkin was among the first poets to write stories in verse. Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, a verse novel, was inspired by Pushkin’s work. It’s said about Pushkin’s poetry that they don’t translate well into English (or any other language), but I am finding the poems well translated, in easy, fluid language that’s nice to read. I have not finished the book but am taking a dip some times and am liking the experience. Pushkin’s style is simple and his poems are mostly based on his experiences and reflections on various aspects of life, Russia and social themes. Here is one of his poems.


The dead delights of frenzied younger days

Weigh on me like alcoholic haze.

The aching sadness of my past endures

And, like good wine, gains body as it matures.

My future life is grim without relief,

A surging swell of struggle, toil and grief.

And yet, my friends, I have no wish to die;

I want to suffer, live and wonder why.

I know I can expect amid the torment,

Trouble and care a rare delicious moment.

Sweet harmonies just fill me with delight

And I shall weep with joy for what I write.

And it may be that at my sad demise

A smile of love shall light in someone else’s eyes.

Pushkin is considered among the greatest Russian poets. However, he didn't die the death befitting his stature as a poet. He died of a freak accident: while having a fight with his wife.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...