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The India Chronicles | Of Random Nostalgic Connects

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When people in London ask me how diverse India really is, I tell them it is like Europe condensed into one country. The cultures and sub-cultures, the languages, the dialects, the people, the physical and metaphysical variegation... physically, India is only about a third of the landmass of Europe, but in almost every other way it is a far more complex system of people, cultures and ways of life.

I grew up and lived in New Delhi for a major part of my life - London has been the only other place I have ever called home. Although work and my inherent itch to wander has taken me all over the country, this is only my first visit to South India. If you ask the average South Indian, you'll be told with a certain vehemence of how it's different from the North - and vice versa. And so I find myself quite the outsider, quite the tourist in Bangalore.

Yet, not quite a stranger.

I find myself looking at Bangalore with the wonder of that much hated tourist of Jarvis Cocker's imagination, yet I find it easy to peel off the surface layer and look underneath - because of that connect that an urbanist can inherently make with a place. As novel and different as I sometimes find South India, I only have to lightly scratch the surface to find that connecting thread - the connect to familiarity and nostalgia.

The nostalgic connect, for instance, that I unwittingly stumbled upon at Higginbothams on MG Road.

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

As I walked in, I felt a strange familiarity overpower me - strange, because I've never been to Higginbothams before. It is one of the oldest surviving bookshops in the country, indeed; but it only has branches in Chennai and Bangalore - cities I've never been to before this. As I lingered through the rows of books though, the nostalgic connect slowly unfolded.

It reminded me of my school libraries - stark, monochrome, no-frills - rows of books crowded on paper-lined shelves.

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

It reminded me of the days when a mobile library used to visit the Delhi locality I used to live in as a child - and how we would greedily search through the loosely categorised dusty piles of books ready to devour until the next visit.

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

It reminded me of the small, dingy but packed bookstores in Delhi where I bought my annual stash of academic references from. And how I did not wait to get home to start reading the English literature books and would have read them back to back even before school term started.

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

It reminded me of the India I grew up in - an urban India very different from the urban India of now.

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

Higginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connect

And perhaps that is why Higginbothams stood out for me amongst the hip new book stores that dot Indian cities now. It's old world charm, a bittersweet sense of being stuck in time sucked me in and wrapped me in its familiarity - a familiarity to connect with which, I do not need to be an urbanist. Just that Indian child again.

10 comments so far:

Psychotropic said...

Speechless. :) So true. I bet it even had that strange smell - the smell of old paper and heat and incense. And the soundtrack must have been riffling pages and ceiling fans.

SloganMurugan said...

- Yes. Your right. Long before the EU, there was the Indian Union. Even though it's sad that Pakistan and Bangladesh are not part of the union. And we even have Sindhis and Tibetans who are now part of this Union (without their own homeland)
-- Now take the road parallel to MG Road. There are some very nice second hand book stores including one called Blossoms there.
- Wonderful.
- I love that last picture of the Tibetan monk.

Joydeep said...

YOU'VE DONE IT AGAIN.....blown me away through the simpliciy of your expression intertwined with a very heavy dose of nostalgia.

Purely Narcotic said...

HigginBotham's! Brings back fond memories of bookshopping. In Mangalore. Yes, yes even that town in the forgotten corner of India has HigginBotham's.

Back in Mangalore they used to have a corner where they would just pile up all the fiction and one had to rummage through it to find anything useful. But it was serendipitous when you came across a book you didn't know you wanted but was there in the pile.

PS. This is the one on MG Road right? A little strange that I never ended up visiting this place when I was in Blore but I loved the look of the building with that board hanging outside.

Vatsala said...

Oh I love the second image from the bottom. It reminds me of a Russian publication in Calcutta - called - Vostok...

jyothy karat said...

yup.. lovely narrative and images. Isn't it strange and wondrous at the same time that we are able to connect after distant separations? Am glad that you did decide to visit the south. For how long are you here?

Flaneurbanite said...

Psychotropic: Absolutely! You just brought smell and sound to my photos, completing the image. Let's make a movie together ;-)

SloMo: Thank you! I'm running way behind schedule on posting all the lovely stuff I click in this city everyday...Blossoms is fast becoming an addiction!

Joydeep: Thank you so much! Glad you liked it. Do keep peeping in for more and I'll try to live up to your expectations:)

Flaneurbanite said...

Purely Narcotic: Really? The guy behind the counter did not tell me about Mangalore! Yes, this one's on MG Road - stately, old - I gravitated towards it the moment I saw it. Unfortunately the monstrous metro construction's going on right outside, so there was no space for me to click it from the exterior.

Vatsala: Thank you! So glad I could stir up that memory for you. I was a huge fan of Russian books myself, as a child - these Russian book fairs would come to Delhi (where I grew up) and my sister and I would feast on them. The princes, invariably named Ivan...and the fair princesses...the witches, the tricksters, the evil westerly winds that would carry away the princesses. And the Illustrations! The best part of Russian books were the illustrations - I still have those in my memory.

Looks like we're going on an alternate memory trail here!

Flaneurbanite said...

Jyothy: Thank you so much. It is strange indeed - with some people and situations, the connect is what matters. Time and distance do nothing to diminish such associations and the connect comes alive again the moment you revisit. While with some others, months and years of trying to establish a reasonable connect fails.

I'm really glad I decided to visit South India too! I'm here for another month. :)

irmelin. said...

Behind MG road, you find a excellent small bookshop selling all kinds of spiritual literature as well as cook books, greeting cards for everything from Holi, mothers day to Id. Strangely, finding my way the back way up to the high street, I realized i needed a map over the city. As I on beforehand had one over Bangalore that was reversed, I thanked God for Higginbothams perfectly rational mapping over a lovely city, a city with a net and rational more rhizomatic than logic for a Scandinavian girl, stupid enough trying to find her way round on her own. Hooray!

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