Mahfouz? That’s the Egyptian Nobel laureate, right? Second shelf from the bottom, penultimate row.”
Muttering directions to himself, the scrawny dark lad led me to the spot, pulled out three volumes from the overloaded shelves and presented them with a flourish: “The Cairo Trilogy.”
I had faith he would be able to find them for me. Earlier, he has helped track down, on different days, Paul Gallico, Peter Carey, Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Connelly and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In the library catalogue tucked away in his head, Mahadeva of the Blossom Book House has the locations of almost every author under the roof. A less popular writer may throw him off a bit and prompt the question, “Fiction or crime?”, but he bounces back soon enough, leading you to the solitary Peter Robinson omnibus (tucked away between volumes of Peter Lovesey and Peter Temple).
Arguably, Blossom is the first bookstore newcomers are introduced to in Bangalore. Together with the legendary Koshy’s restaurant at the head of the road and Cubbon Park diametrically opposite, it makes up the city’s golden triangle. Individually, each can account for hours well spent; together, they are a stabilizing factor in the life of the newly uprooted.
Landmarks:(above) Blossom deals in discounted books; and Cubbon Park. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Bookstores, restaurants and parks are much the same everywhere, but this troika is something special.
Around the corner from Blossom, there’s Premier Book Shop, which has its own cult-like following. Old Mr T.S. Shanbagh, its owner, is as much of an institution as Prem Koshy, the avuncular owner of the restaurant that bears his family name. They are the two personages pointed out to the fresh-off-the-planes by those shoehorning them into the city. Mentioned in Lonely Planet and headlined in sundry other city guides, they have their share of bemused tourists looking to make sense of India through books and conversations and encountering, instead, tottering piles of slightly worse-for-wear Kakars, Kings and Koji Suzukis, and cups of coffee sending out their own special smoke signals.
Blossom is less character- driven than Premier and, dare I say it, better organized to the new eye. More important, they have stools you can pull up between the rows and baskets to bung your books into. Space is not abundant—books literally reach the ceiling, tantalizing you by their out-of-reach covers—but titles are arranged alphabetically, according to the author’s first name, and sections are divided according to genre. There are Westerns (Louis L’Amour galore), crime (of course), romance and the euphemistic classics, which include everything from Milton to Murakami, with the odd Ovid, Austen and Auster thrown in.
Over scores of visits, I’ve learnt it pays to have an agenda when you’re going to Blossoms. “Today I’m looking for Dibdins,” I can say firmly to Mahadeva as he spies a faithful and comes over, eyes shining. Then I can spend hours deciding between one title and the other, flirting in passing with the others stacked up so temptingly all around. A sudden movement can bring down a precarious pile, so one learns to be careful. You also need to step around other browsers, single or in groups, but conversations are easy to strike up.
Ever so often you’ll overhear Mahadeva or another of his ilk explain to someone that they are not a second-hand bookstore. Blossoms (and Premier, BookWorld and a couple of other shops around here) deals in discounted books, shop-soiled, maybe, or library-rejects. The ground floor is given over to new arrivals (available minus the 20% discount), while the third floor (the second floor of the four-storey building is mysteriously not part of this paradise) stocks non-fiction.
Intellectual (or salacious) needs met, it’s easy to make one’s way to the head of the road, where Church Street meets St Mark’s Road. “Let’s do a Koshy’s” is a common refrain, making it the city’s only restaurant that’s also a common noun. The restaurant is a bit of a misnomer, though, since the only part worth visiting is the non-air-conditioned overground dungeon-like space redolent with decades of smoke and conversation. The wait staff is notoriously lethargic—the Sunday morning breakfast special of appam and mutton stew often arrives stone-cold and elicits only a smile if you point it out—but the buzz is something money can’t buy. Reminiscent of Kolkata’s Coffee House, down to the white uniforms and the piping hot coffee, brewed in an enormous kettle by a specialist in an old-fashioned chef’s hat, Koshy’s, as author Anjum Hasan says, is where you go when you haven’t been out for a while and want to catch up with people.
Hands wave lazily across tables, a sixth chair is added to a table that seats four, another beer bottle (strictly Kingfisher, this is not the place for fancy Belgian beer) joins the empty bunch. The nostalgic sniff deeply, hoping perhaps for a whiff of the nicotine-heavy air of pre-2 October days.
Right across from every Bangalorean’s favourite locale, lies the 250 acres of Cubbon Park. From the imposing statue of Queen Victoria at one end to the “neo-Dravidian” Vidhana Soudha, the state legislature, at the other, the landscaped gardens are as much the city’s lungs as its vocal chords. This is where the city’s Tibetans met to protest against China’s crackdown on their homeland, where the city’s young and young-at-heart gathered to vote against the local administration’s ban on live bands and dancing at nightspots, where neo-activists lit candles and rallied for change post-26/11.
This is also where Sabine Tietge, a former aerobics instructor from Germany, summons the members of Runner Girls India, Bangalore’s newest running club and the only one of its kind in India, to do what they do away from curious eyes and lewd comments. Every fortnight, they meet in a non-threatening, non-competitive atmosphere to go through their paces, bond with runners and newbies and experience the exhilaration of stretching the body in the cleanest air in Bangalore.
Food for the mind, for the body, for the soul. Pick your corner, but don’t stick to it
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