Sunday, January 4, 2009

Banning Pakistanis

Anahita Mukherji writes in this morning's Times of India about books by Pakistani authors being pulled from the shelves of Oxford bookstore in Churchgate. An employee of the book store who is a member of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is apparently responsible for the temporary ban.
The question arises: how did a book seller come to employ a person who clearly has no sympathy for, or understanding of, literature? If you've visited the shop (which is not connected in any way with the university of the same name) you'll know how. I've often joked that the owners of Oxford give prospective employees a test, and if any candidate shows evidence of literacy, s/he is disqualified immediately.
When the place opened (about eight years ago, I think) I visited it enthusiastically a few times. The shelves full of publications on Indian history compensated for clueless staff. Since then, the space reserved for intellectually challenging work has dwindled, replaced by who-moved-my-cheese type stuff.
It says something about Bombay that Oxford couldn't sustain its academic section though surrounded by colleges offering degrees in politics, sociology and history. This city's paucity of good booksellers means that no visit to Delhi is complete for me without a tour of stores in Connaught place and, whenever possible, a trip to Daryaganj for more specialised material. On my first visit to Ansari road, I walked into Manohar's outlet after stopping by Oxford University Press, Macmillan and other better known publishers. I was allowed to browse undisturbed by the two people manning the shop: a portly chap at the desk and an older guy with a large moustache, shirtless, wearing a vest tucked into trousers, who sat on a stool unpacking cartons full of books.
After a long time the man in the vest asked, "are you looking for something specific?" I was a bit surprised to be addressed in this manner by somebody I'd assumed was hired help. I told him I was interested in books about Lord Curzon. He rose, walked up to a shelf and pulled out David Dilks' account of Curzon's time in India. I said, dismissively, that I'd read it, and felt it was very dated (the two volumes had been published in the late 1960s). I don't recall his exact reply, but it was something like, "older historiography still has something to offer if you get beyond its limitations".
He was, of course, the owner of Manohar Publishers and Distributors. I ended up buying David Gilmour's biography of Curzon, and shelling out far more than I should have for a second hand copy of Begley and Khan's Illumined Tomb, mainly because I was so impressed by the gentleman in the ganji.

14 comments:

shakester said...

Lovely little story about the Manohar store. I've lived in Delhia most of my life, and never got into visiting these stores, and in some ways, those parts of the city. Now that I live away, I want to explore these areas and ideas, but every trip back is a mashed blur of good times and people.

globalbabble said...

Did he talk to you in Hindi or English?

Amit said...

Oxford is a disappointment. I have had similar experiences, though my reading tastes are different(Sci-Fi/Fantasy). The staff there knows nothing, they dont have a dedicated area to SFF its just mixed into general fiction. I did have a better experience in Delhi, but nowadays its mostly just amazon.com

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks, shakester. I confess that since I gained access to web-based stores across the globe, visiting out-of-the-way bricks and mortar establishments has taken a backseat. Which is a pity, because there's less serendipity involved in browsing online.

Girish Shahane said...

He spoke English, globalbabble. I wouldn't even know what the Hindi word for 'historiography' is. That was the word he used which really stuck in my mind.

Girish Shahane said...

Hey Amit,
Read you comment after responding to shakester, but as you can see from my reply to him, I've drifted Amazonwards as well.

Shrabonti said...

Visit Blossom bookstore on Church Street if you find yourself in Bangalore. Some of the older staff are not bad, and there could be a lot of serendipity involved because they sell used books, right alongside new ones that are heavily discounted. Doesn't get better than that.

Girish Shahane said...

Will do :)

Anand said...

Amit Varma in India uncut had recommended this blog. Thats how I came to this one since he had spoken highly of you and raised the expectations. But I am kind of disappointed by this post. Only the first three lines of the material has any relevance to the title. I really hope it is not a case of post first and think later :) (borrowed from your tagline)

Girish Shahane said...

Anand, please don't ever read a novel called Ulysses by James Joyce, because the title won't seem relevant, even for the first three lines of over 700 pages.
And change this title, in your mind, to Bookstores I Have Known And Loved.

Anonymous said...

Grish, I am glad that you approved my comment unedited even though I did not make a favorable comment and it also shows that you are willing to have a honest discussion without getting offended with the first sign of a differing opinion, qualities that are hard to find these days. Thanks for mentioning Ulysses, will read it sometime. Looked up some details about the book and the author and also the titles relevance. I think your suggested title for this post would have been an appropriate one.

Girish Shahane said...

Anything short of abuse is fine with me, thanks for your comments, I'll think more carefully about titles now.

DS said...

There's an article on Blossom Bookstore in today's Mint Lounge.Looks good.

Girish Shahane said...

It certainly does.