A Landmark Love Story

The Landmark bookstore opens its doors on 23rd January 2009. Landmark has been shut these past three months after a fire broke out in Infinity Mall where it is housed, causing much damage to merchandise and fittings. Mercifully no human casualties except of course for avid Landmarkers who’ve missed the store sorely all this while that it has been undergoing renovation.

I’m irrationally excited over this. Come Friday and I’m making no plans, except to trek back to my favorite bookspot and just savour the feeling of being able to walk around in its interiors again. Is this an indication of the shallow, consumerist lifestyle I lead, that I miss a shop so much? Let me tell you just what Landmark means to me.

I’ve been an avid reader from my early childhood, dating right back to when I missed having siblings to play with, fight with and keep me occupied and hence turned to books for company, for entertainment, for solace, for answers and finally for identification. I’ve also been a loner all my life, never mind the huge groups of people I always seem to have around me.

For the longest time ever, in Mumbai, a booklover’s only source of soul nourishment was to scour the neighborhood raddiwallas and make an occasional trip to Churchgate to browse the street stalls at Flora Fountain. Then came Crossword with its ubiquitous yellow-and-black stores, retailing books. So books were available in a shop close to home. Though, if your tastes extended beyond potboiler bestsellers and management/self-help books, you were still obliged to fall back on your bohemian book-haunts or still brave the journey to town to visit Oxford.

Landmark opened its first store in Mumbai in 2006.

I remember stopping and staring at the poster announcing its soon-arrival at the mall and smiling with sheer joy. My Chennai soujourns had made me quite familiar with this bookstore chain famous in the south. On my first visit to the store, I wandered in curiously, wondering whether the insofar bookstore had only decided to set up its music and movie business in Mumbai. All I could see were aisles and aisles of DVDs and CDs! And then at the very end, almost like a tunnel suddenly opening up, I stumbled into a huge…paradise. Books, books, books as far as I could see.

I’d only ever seen so many books in one place at the annual Strand book sale, which would still be unorganized piles of books, stacked onto cloth-covered tables. But here I was standing among rows and rows of gleaming shelves neatly categorized as Humour, Literary Fiction, Classics, Romance, Spirituality, Teen Fiction, Children’s books, Feminism, Travel, Science, Architecture, Movies, Art and so on. I walked passed authors I’d never known existed, genres I’d never conceived and books I’d never heard of.

Landmark became an integral part of my weekend schedule. I’d plan to catch a movie or lunch or dinner with a friend and find an excuse to be at Landmark. I’d either ask to meet them at the mall that also has a theatre and a food-court. Sometimes I’d drop by after an outing or arrange to meet someone between Magazines and Featured Books. Some days I’d go there by myself and spend hours browsing, walking out for a snack, poring over a book I’d bought or just feeling – something – just walking around.

My relationship with Landmark has grown in parallel with my relationship with my own writing. For a very long time, writing and creative endeavours were distant dreams, fantasies that I never really thought about seriously. I started my blog on a whim, to ‘get it out of my system’ so to speak. Surprisingly I found, my inspiration and my inclination…and my obsession to write only grew with time. After much teenage angst, anxiety-ridden desicions of education and work, job-switches and on/off relationships, I’ve discovered my passion. Words are my one and only real passion.

Writing is an indescribable feeling, one that rejuvenates me and one that takes me over in a fury and leaves me feeling quite spent – and fulfiled. I’ve never felt the same sense of completion with anyone or anything or anywhere else. The best thing about my job is how much it allows me to write. And where is a poet more at home than in a garden? Landmark is a garden of ideas, of people and stories and poems and articles and books all the many different ways we find to share our impressions with each other. The world outside disappoints me, hurts me, wears me down. But I walk back into a world of books and I find authors I deeply admire, words that bring me comfort, ideas that rekindle my zest for life, so much inspiration to just be me.

You might argue that I could have this in any other bookshop in the world. Yes, perhaps, if only there were others that offered the mind-boggling variety of books, a friendly but not intrusive staff and the convenience of location. If you’ve seen the movie ‘You’ve got mail’, you might say that Landmark has the staggering variety of Fox books set in the cosy ambience of the corner bookshop.

Now, three years later, I have a sentimental attachment to the Landmark store as well. The staff not only knows me by face and name, one of their employees has become a close, personal friend. I remember meeting Lord Jeffrey Archer, idol of my teenage years and buying a book for a special lady in my life. I walked through the aisles playing a ‘now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t’ with a date who enjoyed books as much and picked out Knots by R.D.Laing for him. Weeks later, when he broke my heart, I healed myself in the comfort of Milan Kundera and Alexander McCall-Smith. I found a new friend, a new circle of people, a new interest and a new path to the future in Graphic Novels. I nurtured the early stages of a long-distance relationship through my SMS-chats and whispered conversations about the books I was browsing (while he’d be doing the same in the store in another city).

In these past three months, I’ve visited two countries, been in love and out of it, borne two deaths, has my sense of stability shaken by the terror attacks, discarded a friendship, renewed a few, acquired some more. I haven’t had that haven that Zen calls ‘the place of stillness’ through all this. My friends have made babies, celebrated wedding anniversaries, had birthdays, returned to India after years. And I haven’t been able to greet them with my choice of gift – a book specially chosen for the person and the occasion. Yes, I’ve missed Landmark so much. Friday, reunion!

And of course if any of you reading this post, have decided you love me enough to send me a gift, Landmark has a gift voucher program! ;-)

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