Chennai: Book lover’s paradise

It strikes me that Chennai must be one of the few metros with a wide presence of all the major bookstore chains in the country. Consider: this city gave birth to and nurtured Landmark, which now has three large stores- On Nungambakkam High Road, Spencer Plaza and the City Centre Mall, in addition to a couple of small format stores; Odyssey is the other locally spawned biggie with stores in Adyar and Anna Nagar; Crosswords made its advent with Shopper’s Stop on Harrington Road and now has opened a biggish outlet at the Shopper’s Stop in T Nagar; and the Oxford Book Store has opened a largish store on Haddows Road! Clearly there is a market for books in Chennai that can support the offerings from all these stores.

You know, in the past it’s often been said that Delhi is the political capital of India, Mumbai the commercial capital, Calcutta the cultural capital and Chennai the intellectual capital of India! That’s not too far from the truth if one looks at school, college, CAT and JEE and other results. Chennai is also a force to reckon with in engineering, IT, computer science and the creative arts-everything to do with the Knowledge Society. We’re also a force to reckon with in pursuits that border on serious entertainment like quizzing. Many of the best colleges, depending on the subject of course, are in Chennai. As are some of the better schools (not swanky, but in terms of quality of education).

Could the book store phenomenon be a factor in support of the hypothesis above? I certainly think so! I also drew cheer from Nandhu’s post on judging the Synapse competition at the Sornammal Education Trust at Aynavaram. His comments on how politically and issue aware the kids are point clearly to a reading ethic amongst the students, newspaper or otherwise. As the kind of people who were most quoted, both of whom clearly represent the intelligentsia, old and new (Kalam and Thiruvalluvar). People, this is not some acclaimed school we are not talking about, but a school tucked away in Aynavaram. But it makes us proud of the standards this school is nurturing, and the kind of thinking it is inculcating in its students from such an early age!

Pavithra’s post on the Hari Shree Vidyalayam school in Raja Annamalaipuram holding a book fair as a part of the book reading week is another case in point. So stores like Crossword and the Oxford Book Store which encourage the reading habit are welcome. I have seen first hand at how welcoming they are of browsers at the Crossword at Shopper’s Stop on Harrington Road when they opened. We used to live on Harrington Road and used to stop by often to browse the store. In fact, my daughter used to head off to Crossword every time she was at a loose end, settle down in one of their comfy sofas, and read all kinds of books, including Calvin and Hobbes! Needless to say that, if we wanted to buy a book, Crossword was our natural choice. At a time when the idiot box seems to be extending it’s all pervasive influence, the efforts of these stores to encourage reading is really heartening.

They’re doing it in various ways: From book readings by authors, guest appearances, talks, quizzes to clubs, they’re becoming centres of literary activity that help to widen our interests or pursue them. Today’s article in the ET Madras Plus (Madras Plus, not Chennai Plus, bless them!) titled ‘Open House’ about the Oxford Book Store has details of the various clubs and the activities the store is planning. Bishwanath’s post on Crossword also had details of the Crossword Book Club that book lover’s can join. The restoration of the Connemara Public Library drew enough interest for our very own Chandrachoodan to spend his lunch time there and do a post on it. These are the things that give this city it’s depth and make one proud to be a citizen here! More than that, you can be sure there’s much more to come for booklovers. Enjoy!

8 Comments so far

  1. Hyde (unregistered) on November 24th, 2006 @ 12:11 pm

    I am surprised you didn’t mention Higginbothams.


  2. Guy (unregistered) on November 24th, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

    Higginbothams is a badly structured shop with books which most people don’t read. It’s also the ugliest big bookshop in Chennai. Even Fountainhead is better.


  3. Guy (unregistered) on November 24th, 2006 @ 8:20 pm

    Landmark rulez!


  4. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on November 25th, 2006 @ 3:32 pm

    Higinbotthams is, indeed, a rather peculiar place — but it is great for non-fiction.


  5. Hyde (unregistered) on November 25th, 2006 @ 11:08 pm

    True, Higginbothams is a badly maintained place, a place that has fallen behind times and all. But before the Landmarks, the Odysseys or the Fountainheads happened, there was only one place to go.


  6. T.Rajapandian (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 10:31 am

    There is also a dark side to Chennai. It can also be called the ‘cheating capital’ of India. The other day I brought my bike on train to Chennai Central.The porter was unusually helpful.As I didnt have the change, he himself gave Rs 10 to the other porter who unloaded the bike on to the platform. He then volunteered to get the gate pass himself.At the gate, before we get out Rs 10 has to be paid as bribe to the policemen.The porter paid that also. He then started pushing my bike outside towards a petrol pump as the fuel tank was empty.After reaching the pump, he parked the bike and demanded Rs.450.The amount for pushing the bike for 10 minutes.I flatly refused following which he started using the foul language Chennai is most famous for. I remained cool and did not respond to his provocations.His demand came down to Rs 150 fo which I wasnt willing. He kept on shouting for close to 45 mins.A traffic constable saw this and walked towards us,upon seeing him the porter begged for any amount I was willing. I gave him Rs.40 and filled up my tank and rode away.So ultiamately what he got was Rs 20(40-20 he gave earlier.
    I could have given him the amount he had asked and gone away but that would have set the precedent for fleecing innocent visitors later.I hope such people dont repeat this and spoil the name of our beautiful city.


  7. Ng (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 7:20 am

    Hello,

    Thanks for the nostalgic post. I remember going to Higginbothams in the 80’s. I came across your blog, while searching for places to see and visit during my next trip to Madras (sorry still can’t change it :-) )

    Would you be able to recommend music stores where I can give an ipod and get it ‘loaded’ with Tamil songs? I grew up in Madras during 70’s/80’s and am planning my first visit back to the city early next year. Would greatly appreciate if you can point me to any websites/stores to help me pick the songs from that era.

    Thanks a bunch.
    Ng


  8. suneeva (unregistered) on December 4th, 2006 @ 1:30 pm

    Absolutely, Chennai seems to be having more book lovers than any other Indian city based on the number of bookstores that abound. Inspite of the fact that the city has many lending libraries such as Eloor in T-Nagar, these book stores do well and more open up. It suggests that the love affair with books of the people of Chennai is more than just reading… it extends to ownership and possession of the book. Typically one would buy books that one cannot wait to borrow, that one would like to own, and one that you would like to read more than once. And obviously books are bought by people across all income groups or these stores could not be sustained. So if one can draw such generalizations, it says something about what the people of Chennai hold dear.

    At the same time let’s not forget that these stores also peddle music, greeting cards, gifts, and more. And I wonder if Higginbothams may appear a ‘weird’ store because it does not!



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