Wednesday, January 19, 2011



You and I have a long and fruitful relationship. As a schoolgirl, I was stuck in a place that was, effectively, rural. There were no bookshops for miles and miles. Perhaps there were some in the nearest town, but they did not have what I considered real books - novels, stories, plays, poetry etc.

My mother stocked up on books in the summer vacations and carted them back in large, bulky cartons for the school library. When we began to visit Mumbai in the summer, her major stops were Danai and Crossword.
And look at me now! I'm grown up and sitting on your shelves! True, usually on the wrong shelf. But never mind. It's been a long journey. Almost destined, eh? (And I am quite pleased to see that I'm a generously discounted title on your website)

But remember that first store near Mahalakshmi, where your staff actually knew their books? They seemed interested in books. Or else, they did a good job of pretending for they seemed keen to help you find what you might be looking for. But then you opened another outlet, and then another. Now there are probably a dozen (or more?) Crosswords spread across different cities. Which would have been nice, if only your employees were better suited to their jobs.
I'm not complaining as a writer. Although it is strange that a book clearly marked 'Non-Fiction' should be so insistently placed among 'Fiction' (in five different Crossword outlets) and it is not nice having to point this out all the time. In one store, I did complain, only to have a frightened-looking youth repeatedly say: 'Excuse me, ma'am?' and 'Sorry, ma'am!'

I guessed the poor fellow had no clue what 'Non-Fiction' means. But my book being mis-classified is not such a big deal. It's relatively new and nobody's heard of me. But why was Pankaj Mishra's Temptations of the West lying under 'Indian Fiction'? You may not agree with our views, but that is no reason to insult our reportage and memories.

Jokes aside, it is a huge waste of time trying to find a book buried in the wrong section. I'm complaining as a customer, dear Crossword.

I've been pretty faithful. I keep coming back, despite being disappointed, despite knowing that Landmark is better stocked (Oxford is worse, however. Their staff is so laconic, so disinterested in books, they have told me they didn't have a certain book when in fact, I did manage to locate it on their shelves - in the wrong section, of course. And the fact that the home page of their website bears the cover image of a fashion magazine rather than a book is seriously off-putting).

I keep returning to you, Crossword, for the sake of nostalgia. Or perhaps it is because you offer yourself up for literary events and support local literature in other ways - through prizes and (what used to be Sriram's great) recommendations. I respect that. I want you to do more of that.

But I am annoyed by the fact that you seem to have room for every new, half-literate book but not the ones that deserve to stay on the shelves. Why, for instance, would you not stock Kiran Nagarkar's Cuckold in all your outlets? Why would you not stock P. Sainath's Everybody Loves a Good Drought, or Pinki Virani's Bitter Chocolate? These books are great, and have done well over the years and there is no reason to not keep them in circulation.

I understand that you are a business and must cater to all kinds of reading tastes. But if you can stock five different types of books about henna designs, surely you can stock Nagarkar...
Oh, speaking of henna, can you please explain to me what a book called 'Mehendi Design' is doing in the 'Women's Studies' section at your Bangalore branch?

Yes, I know mehendi is usually by and for women, but a little political correctness never killed anyone. If it was just one book, I'd have understood - human error etc. But here are a few choice titles from the Women's Studies shelf in Crossword, Bangalore:

Eat, Love, Pray (everything written by a woman does not qualify as Women's Studies. You do know that, don't you?)

Koffee with Karan (he's not a woman and he does not interview only women)

Mirza Ghalib - K C Kanda
(neither is a woman, and while Ghalib's poetry might refer to women now and then, the themes aren't quite feminine)

A marriage made in heaven
(I didn't bother to look at the author or sub-genre)

Arrange Your Love Marriage
(Clearly, you seem to think women are only interested in marriage)

Perfect Parties
(or parties)

Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex
(or bedding men)

Masti Fictions - Katha
(Masti is the name of the author, not a sexual reference, and it says 'fictions' on the cover, for god's sake!)

The Meaning of Sunglasses
(!!! Why did you even bother?)


Now I am upset both as a customer and as a woman. Also, I could not help noticing that there were no titles by Zubaan, which actually does publish a lot of books that are academic, non-fiction, feminist and even fiction that would qualify to be on YOUR Women's Studies shelf.[Follow the link and you will find a long list to choose from].

I also find it deeply disturbing to discover 'How to make your man behave in 21 days or less using the secrets of professional dog trainers' in the Poetry section. That there were about two dozen Tagores and almost no other Indian poets (English or Hindi) on that shelf is another matter of smaller concern.
Please, dear Crossword , fix this problem. I know that it is hard to find good sales staff who also read books, but can you at least hire fully literate people in the stores, and give them a crash course in book arrangement and broad literary/academic sub-genres?

Every year should bring some improvement, some small change. So here's a request - let's have a wee bit more poetry. Something that isn't Tagore, or Neruda or Ted Hughes priced at 900 insane rupees. Eh? Maybe even the odd performance or screening of poetry if there's enough content and willing providers?


There are all kinds of stores out there. Some are just businesses, who may as well be selling soap or candy. Some invest a little more in books, readers and authors. I trust you belong to the latter category. Which is why I'd like you to change for better, not worse. So dear Crossword, here's wishing you a happy new year. I have your yellow-silver card and I'm probably going to see you soon. I hope it will mean mutual, undiluted pleasure.

10 comments:

kunal said...

I had visited the Crossword in Hyderabad and there was a section marked References. And it stocked all of PG Wodehouse books.

me said...

I see what you mean
I spent some amazing times in crossword too..
I spent all of 2009 there

I want the old crossword back:(

Sonal Rathi said...

You really need to have a look at flipkart.com

I mean really!

pushpee said...

Crossword is just a bookstall where one can enjoy regular book launches and enjoy a hot cup of coffee, I can never find the book I want and staff is always clueless, I am not sure if they are library science graduates, and yeah, its a place to read some excerpts before you make up your mind to buy it at discounted rate online

SUR NOTES said...

I have been a lurker on your blog for quite some time but I had to delurk on this post.

Two days back@ the Crossword on Turner Road I asked for the poetry section, I was told I would find it in the Biography section. I did actually make the effort of going through the vast Biography section in the hope of finding something acceptable. When I found NOTHING i was told, we probably dont have any poetry.

Two years back a friend requested for a copy of the The Ugliness of the Indian Male by Mukul Kesavan. @Crossword in Inorbit: I did not have the time to browse through the bookshelves and find it so I asked for help. I was told that they did indeed have one copy of the book and it was stored in.....hold your breath.... the Beauty and Health section. I discovered to my horror that this very very vast and well stocked section is not organised alphabetically. I went through many many many many titles and ofcourse I never did find the one I was looking for.

And by the way Landmark stacks a section called Occult and Witchcraft next to the section marked Feminism. I thought it was someone in the Andheri outlet who had a distinct sense of humour/bias but no, the very same formation existed in a landmark outlet in Ahmedabad.

Today Eunice D'souza has written about An audience of One in mumbai mirror - between that single reader and the book lies a maze of shelves organised by disinterested book sellers.

Kits said...

Man I gave up on Crossword ages ago! Landmark and Odyssey made it for me especially with their extensive collections. Although noticed the same haphazardness in the organisation of the books! Sigh must be a malaise affecting book stores in India maybe!

work_in_progress said...

flipkart.com zindabad (I am not affiliated with them). They have always had the books I need, I don't have to find parking space and they always deliver on time.

WillOTheWisp said...

Too many ADD-addled students and graduates getting jobs these days ... must thank CROSSWORD and such like, including the BPOs for finding them employment ... ;)

Ganeiza said...

Find it extremely surprising when people compare online and offline space. There seems to be very less ( NO) logic applied when making this comparison.

Ganeiza said...

Odyssey has a great collection. All the best to them. Seems to be a stationery shopper.

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