Like bar-hopping, except cooler
In a town designed to provide everything a college student could want, fiction takes a backseat to academics on bookstore shelves. A Mecca for booklovers Manipal is not. Or so people believe. The quest, one warm Sunday afternoon, was to test the veracity of this statement. Armed with Google maps, Justdial, localite recommendations, a companion with an ulterior motive, and auto money, I set out to explore Manipal’s bookhouses and analyse them. Here’s an account of the journey.
The first stop was the most prominent of Manipal’s bookstores, the one even freshers are generally aware of weeks after stepping into Manipal. While primarily stocked with a mind-boggling variety of stationery and medical textbooks, Bharat Bookmark does also have a shiny fiction shelf. Browsing through it resulted in a feeling that was less of disappointment and more of resignation that you really can’t expect more from a management that has other priorities. Every mainstream author from Chetan Bhagat to Amish and Jeffrey Archer to Sidney Sheldon was dutifully accounted for but it didn’t have much else. It’s a good place to go to when you’re searching for a light, sensational read and don’t want to browse for longer than ten minutes. In bar terms, it’s the nightclub you see posters about everywhere and when you get there you have fun dancing for a while but then you realise that the DJ is playing Uptown Funk and Lean On in an endless loop and you need to head elsewhere for more variety.
Manipal Bookland was the seedy, hole-in-the-wall biker bar I ventured into out of curiosity. It quickly killed the negligible high that Bharat Bookmark had created. On entry, the proprietor glared at me and demanded to know what I was looking for. A timid enquiry about fiction books elicited a grunt and a nod towards a shelf where two dog-eared novels sat looking quite forlorn. Around them were littered the worn remains of a plethora of children’s books and more of that hated enemy: textbooks. Too afraid to try anything, I left quickly and breathed in the fresh afternoon air with a sigh of relief.
Nehru Memorial Library
The third place on my list was something of a curiosity. It had been recommended to me by a localite who vouched for its excellence but I could not find a single other person who knew about it and even Google maps and Justdial, my hardy, reliable helpers, seemed to be unaware of it. The shopkeepers around TC directed me to the Manipal Police Station and from there I found my way to a building that had a sign for the library but also claimed to be the Manipal Institute of Computer Education. While I stood there thoroughly confused, a helpful Samaritan pointed me to the right entrance for the library and I climbed the stairs with a feeling of mounting excitement. The library seemed like the equivalent of the very cool, very elite underground club that is frequented by celebrities and requires a password and a special knock to access. I was not disappointed. Bypassing the regional books and septuagenarians reading newspapers on the left, I went right to shelf upon shelf of English fiction and felt as though I had stepped into book paradise. Books, like fine wine, get better with age and these had quite a bit of mileage on them. The hardbound novels crackled as I took them off the shelf and the smell of old books permeated the air as I delicately turned yellowing pages. They were arranged, ostensibly by author name but Jane Austen could be found in ‘A’ while George Orwell sat in ‘G’ so whether they meant last name or first name remained a mystery. Additionally, ‘The Collected Works of William Shakespeare’ also sat in ‘A’ so the books might also have been arranged by author’s spouse’s name. The glorious disarray only meant that every shelf held a surprise.
The biggest surprise of them all was finding a shelf of sparkly, pink cocktails amidst the fine scotch and wine. On one side of the bookstore, mere metres away from the septuagenarians was a shelf that held at least four hundred Mills and Boon novels, all carefully hardbound.
I had a chat with the bartender librarian and found out that you could become a member of the library for just Rs. 100 a year and being above the age of seventy was not a requirement.
M.I.T Hostel Library
I returned to campus for my last stop on the bookstore-hopping journey. Convenient and close to home (hostel, whatever), it’s the juice bar at the end of the street. The newer section inside was heavy on fantasy featuring both Percy Jackson and the more obscure Wheel of Time series. The older selection in the outer shelves was bewilderingly random, having everything from Dickens to Asimov, but all-inclusive because of its randomness. Teetotallers can dip their feet into the reading pool with something light but the serious readers can also drop by and find something for a change of pace from their usual. Located in the Student Activity Centre near the Food Court, it also has the advantage of being easy to access. Drop by on a lazy Sunday or any time you’re bored at KC.
When I got back to my room with my urge for books satisfied, I wanted a community of readers who would understand my passion. The MIT Bookhub (thebookhub.in) and ‘The Reader’s Club, Manipal’ Facebook group are the book equivalent of that vodka bottle you definitely don’t have stashed in your room.
My journey taught me that, despite first appearances, Manipal has plenty of places that allow you to become drunk off words and satisfy your soul. Books may not be at your doorstep but if you venture out and explore, gems like the Nehru Library exist to entice you.