Why 'The Economist's' 'Joy of Reading' campaign matters

My maternal uncle started gifting me books whenever I did well in my school results. It then became a habit and he would give me books as a gift whenever he gave me anything. He was partly responsible for inculcating in me the habit of reading.

When we moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata), I discovered a treasure trove of books at Mamoni’s (my aunt's house). There were these old almirahs full of dust laden books.

A screen grab of the campaign's official website.

A screen grab of the campaign's official website.

It seemed like an inexhaustible supply of books to a 13-year old and then there was the Calcutta Book Fair, where one could buy Russian books for as little as 25 paise. Yes, once I bought four books for one rupee and one of them - No Truth Allowed - is still one of my all time favourites.

In recent years Crossword at Kemps Corner and The Landmark in Phoenix Mills were the regular haunts. But slowly the buying started to shift to online store Flipkart - sheer convenience, discounted prices, better inventory, it all added up. But Landmark, being located right next to my home, was still on my itinerary since very few things can beat the pleasure of browsing books in a store.

A couple of years back (or was it three?), during my visit to Landmark one evening I noticed that part of the floor covering in the children's section was removed and two men were taking out pails of water. On asking I was told that they have to do this twice a day or risk the store being flooded.

What was causing this gush of water they did not know. But likely jugaad on part of the property developer (in this case Phoenix Mills) meant that the store was operational when it shouldn't have been. And this is one of the premier shopping destinations of Mumbai. Within a few months of that Landmark closed for repairs with a promise to be back in a few months.

The months have become years. The jugaad by Phoenix Mills may have been god-sent for Trent (the company that owns Landmark) since the large store would have been losing money hand over fist and a large book store is no longer profitable. If online sellers were not bad enough for business, then came the e-books to further drive book stores out of business.

While Phoenix Mills maintains a facade that the book store will open, my bet is it won't. When urgently I need a book to gift someone or stationery, I still miss Landmark.

Today (14th April) I visited Crossword at Kemps Corner after a long time. Half (or one-third) has been shut down. A car show room is opening, the security lady told me. How fitting - an ode to India's growth and consumption story. I am left wondering how long will the store continue to operate. The death of the book store it seems is foretold.

I bought two books for my son today from Crossword, although online purchases would have been cheaper. After all an online store cannot deliver instantly unless it is an e-book and I am still not on to e-books yet.

The two books are some of my long term favourites - The Guns of Navarone by Alistair Maclean and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I cannot go too wrong with these two, can I? I can hope that my son will start enjoying reading - physical books or e-books. And that is why I love the new initiative by The Economist - Celebrate the joy of reading.

Updated Date: Apr 15, 2013 15:08 PM

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