Tests August 28, 2012

Quaint bookstore v glitzy chain

Suhas Cadambi
It is widely predicted that the older forms of cricket and bookselling will go the way of the dinosaur. But, like their book-loving counterparts, fans of the five-day format are a determined lot

There exists a certain type of book-lover who is particular not just about what he reads, but also where he buys it from. It is mostly people of this ilk who are responsible for keeping the cult of the 'friendly neighbourhood bookstore' going strong. Clearly, there is a certain romance associated with the local bookshop struggling to compete with the rise of a big chain counterpart; director Nora Ephron even made a well-known romantic comedy on the theme.

One might wonder why a reader should prefer the smaller, minimalist store to the giant, glitzy establishment when the latter offers essentially the same product, at superior levels of convenience. The reader would probably offer a multitude of reasons: the sense of personal belonging which you simply don't get with the larger stores, the presence of knowledgeable owners or astute staff who wouldn't need a computer to tell you if a certain book were available, the likelihood of finding a rare title, or simply the stimulating environment. This is a real-world parallel I hit upon while thinking about a seeming contradiction in cricket: the attitudes of die-hard Test cricket fans, including myself, towards the various formats of the game.

I may profess not to like it, but every year I end up watching a fair bit of the IPL anyway. I'm often asked why this is so; the best explanation I can provide is that an IPL game, at its core, is still bat versus ball, and any cricket on television is better than none at all. Yet, my feelings about the Twenty20 format persist. Perhaps it's not the league itself, but its knock-on effects - the proliferation of domestic T20 leagues, player availability, a badly compromised schedule - that leave some of us cold.

Whatever it may be, like many others I am the proverbial passenger on the train who simply has to catch a glimpse of the game being played outside, driven by that compulsive need to know what will happen next ball. Similar to this is how the reader who swears by the smaller store can still be found leafing through a book in the bigger one; the effect of a flame on a moth.

The older ways, however, continue to inspire certain affection. Every major Indian city now boasts an IPL franchise, but the Test match still has more of a community feel to it than the league. When we were discussing the schedule for New Zealand's upcoming tour of India (Tests in Hyderabad and Bangalore), a Hyderabad-based friend insisted he would rather get tickets for the Bangalore game because "nothing beats the experience of watching a Test in your hometown". People of Bangalore feel equally strongly about the quaint Premier Bookstore, which shut down three years ago, to the extent that a documentary film has been made on the owner.

Further similarities can be uncovered. The big-chain bookstore is usually found in a bustling shopping mall, and is seemingly incomplete without additions such as a DVD section and a coffee shop. By the same token, it is difficult to imagine a T20 game without floodlights, an excitable crowd, loud music, and cheerleaders. It sure hits home with the larger public, even if the purist finds this all a bit repulsive.

It is widely predicted that the older forms of cricket and bookselling will go the way of the dinosaur. But, like their book-loving counterparts, fans of the five-day format are a determined lot. Today, any reasonably absorbing Test match, never mind the attendance figures, is a reason (or is it excuse?) for renewed optimism. The cause may be a losing one, but it is still worth fighting for.

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