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 connectHigginbothams Bangalore - a nostalgic connectHigginbothams 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 connectHigginbothams 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

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