“The Book Zone in Hari Om Tower in Ranchi, boasts to be the storehouse of literary books. Believe it or not, the salespeople expressed utter ignorance about Ghosh and his books, when I had the fortune to visit the shop, one Saturday evening. In fact, the Book Zone is no exception. Famous Indian authors, who write in English — Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Suketu Mehta, Anurag Mathur and Ashok Banker are also prominently missing.
There are two other book shops of “repute” in Ranchi-Book World and Good Books. Let us delve deeper into their secret chambers. Good Books contains mostly biblical stuff. If at all it has some abridged versions of famous classics by Emily Bronte, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, published by Madhuban Publication, with grammatical and spelling errors. A literature lover will find the famed classics abridged by Madhuban Publications, simply revolting. The Book World, too, is bereft of books by Ruskin Bond, Amit Choudhary [sic], Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri. Wonder how does one qualify for Ranchi shelves?
Of course, the motivational books authored by our scientist President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Shiv Khera adorn the racks of the Ranchi bookshops. “The books you are mentioning have no market in Ranchi” is the oft repeated refrain that one gets to hear if one dares to enquire into the near drought of books.
Bookshops outside the metros are strange beasts. Places like Dehradun and Pune don’t count; their bookshops are often run by enthusiasts and have very varied and interesting stock. I’m assuming South India doesn’t count, either, though I still remember how nice it was to get off sleepily at Erode station and discover Bronte and Borges instead of The Da Vinci Code at the station bookshop. The hills are alive with backpacker wisdom and secondhand travel books; Uttar Pradesh used to have some of the crappiest “English bookshops” I’ve ever seen, but made up with Hindi bookshops that ran the gamut from the greats of Hindi and Urdu literature to Inspector Vinod’s adventures and an apparently endless supply of lurid porn books (called “porndies”, which made them sound so cuddly) featuring overly beloved Bhabhijis. I never figured out why Gangtok’s readers eschewed most of the world of European novelists but had an obsession with Gunter Grass, though it was easier to understand why you might stumble across a bookshop in rural Bengal that had a comprehensive selection of Russian authors. If you ran a Great Bookshop Survey in India, I wonder what trends you’d find–would there be more dismal shrines to biblio abiblia, as in Ranchi, or would you find nuggets of literary gold in the oddest of places?