We were a snooty lot at St. Stephen’s college. While other colleges had ‘canteens’, we had a Café. One of the first things you encounter there as a vegetarian, are the cutlets. They are served with a small helping of inedibly (or at least that what your taste-buds conclude at the first encounter) sour chutney. Then begins a journey which ends with you liking the chutney so much that you begin to wonder if you should be asking the chef for the recipe. It’s a rite of passage a bit like college life itself. Entering college after more than 12 years in the same school is a bit unnerving. Your first reaction is to want to flee! But then days go by, you begin to soak in the new routine in a new environment and importantly, you make new friends. Then at some point in time, you actually start enjoying college so much that when you look back at those days a few years later, it is not without the touch of a degree of mistiness in the eyes.
I say this because all of this applies to a certain bookshop at Bangalore - Gangarams. I go there to buy stationery (which has happened just once - when we were looking to buy hand-made envelopes to put our wedding cards in) or computer books (which happens quite often). You take the staircase all the way to this huge room on the third floor with rows of tables on which the books are kept with their spines facing up. Only 2-3 tables are relevant for someone looking for computer books. You patiently browse and try to locate what you are looking for - O’Reilly publications get a significant chunk on one table, Manning another, Microsoft Press and Apress take up the remaining significant area. Pragmatic press books make an occasional appearance on, what I call, the O’Reilly table. Chances are you won’t find what you are looking for, so you’d ask one of the ‘helpers’. They’ll give you a significant look and reluctantly amble to that old machine running DOS, look up the book’s coordinates and fetch it for you. It is easy not to be intimidated - because the place somehow has an air about it that reminds you of your college library - complete with curmudgeonly librarians. Within a few visits however, a switch inside you begins to flip. You actually begin to start liking the place! The old-worldly pace, the reluctant but often effective helpers, the portly middle-aged proprietor of the shop telling someone on the phone about having to import a book from Singapore thereby justifying the ludicrous exchange-rate defying price the customer at the other end would need to pay for it. But most of all, you learn that magical incantation which gets you 10% off the book’s price!