Friday, February 03, 2012


Another single store, and an illustrious bookshop bites the dust. In Pune. This is the reality of the so called ‘Oxford of the East.’ As the curtain closes on the historic and perhaps the most well known bookshop in Pune on March 31, I am reminded of the fate of Meg Ryan’s bookshop ‘Around the Corner’ in the film ‘You’ve Got Mail’, where Tom Hanks’ owner of a bookshop chain buys this traditional retail outlet to kill the competition. I don’t know the precise reason why “Manneys” on Moledina Road has decided to pull down the shutters, the point is, it spells doom for individual, retail bookshops. Look at those Crosswords, those Landmarks, they are doing well; it’s another matter that they sell more DVDs and toys and stationery than actual books.

For decades, the Manneys bookshop on Moledina Road, near the West End theatre, has been a unique landmark. It was the best bookshop in town before the arrival of Crossword to Pune. Even after the spread of Crosswords and Landmarks, Manneys was the best place for finding books; they’d have even the most obscure titles, like the Dali autobiography, ‘The Diary of a Madman’.

I remember picking up well known Italian novelist Alberto Moravia’s two novels, ‘Woman of Rome’ and ‘Two Women’, at the Manneys in 1998, in one of my early visits to the bookshop. I was really, really excited to find the paperback copies of these two books, that too at Rs 20 apiece. It was a bargain. Later, I even did a paper on ‘Woman of Rome’ and argued that the decision of Moravia heroine Adriana to sell her body is an act of woman empowerment. After I read the paper at the women’s studies centre, there was an uproar. A well known and very militant feminist activist/educator accused me of being patriarchal, and that my argument is a-historical. My argument was a-historical all right, but I argued passionately. Those days I thought I knew about all these stuff; I had no self-doubt as I have now. Those were good days.

During my student days in late 1990s and early 2000s, despite the fact that we did not have any money to buy books, doing a round of Manneys at least once a week was a ritual. If we had money, we would go and catch a film, and if the theatre happened to be West End, a trip to the bookshop was a must, and then, as the afternoon would change into evening, we would take a long walk on M G Road, finally settling on a corner table at Cafe Naaz with plates of samosas and cups of teas in front of us. Those were good days. Cafe Naaz has been replaced by Barista a long time ago. Last time I was in that coffee shop, someone else paid for the cappuccino. I refuse to pay so much for just a cup of coffee.

In Pune, Manneys is an icon, a heritage, a backdrop of so many great happenings. It’s a piece of the city’s history, incorporating the British, the Parsi, the Muslim and then the rise of the Pan-Maharashtrian identity. It is also a site of a large number personal adventures, mine and of people I know.

And William Golding too. If I remember correctly, the author of ‘Lord of the Flies’ was invited to the Department of English, University of Pune, and now, the popular myth is that he visited the bookstore and met its the then owner.

I have a more interesting story tell. I know a person who met his lover and future partner in one of the aisles of this cramped floor filled with books and more books. He was browsing the photography section, those coffee table books with glossy and gorgeous pictures which you will never afford to buy. He was looking at a particularly handsome picture of a handsome young man in tribal costume. He was so engrossed at the image that he had no inkling of someone else standing next to him. “A handsome young man, isn’t he?” the stranger ask him, and our friend looked up. There was the man, and our friend would tell us, it was love at the first sight. Don’t know about that, but they are still together, after 18 years, after many a seasons of rain and shine.

Personally, this was the place where for the first time I experienced how it is like to see your own book in one of the shelves of a bookshop! I cannot describe the feeling, but it was a proud moment. I was browsing; walking slowly among the books in a bookshop is itself so exhilarating, when I saw two copies of my book, in the lower shelf. I picked up a copy and flipped the pages as if I had seen the book for the first time. Then I kept the book in its place. For the next half-an-hour, I lurked around the shelf to see if anyone would pick up a copy. It was heartbreaking; no one picked up the book.

The end of Manneys reminds me of another bookshop on F C Road. It was called “Jai Jalram” or something, in a small room next to the footpath in the middle of the busy thoroughfare. And, like Manneys, this was a place where you’d find any book you want. I remember buying the Phillip Pullman trilogy from here. It’s been two years now, the shop is gone and the guys who used to run the shop now sell imitation jewellery and trinkets. Those sell more then books anyway. You bet!

Manneys in Pune to down shutters on March 31 in DNA.
Booklovers mourn loss as Manneys set to shut shop forever in The Times Of India.

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