Feb 2, 2012

Manneys of Pune - Beating the Retreat

As many Pune readers would know by now, the iconic Pune bookstore "Manneys" is closing down soon (in March 2012). "Manneys" has been an old Pune favourite, partly because of its vintage (about 50 years old) and partly for being one of those bookstores that is tagged as having "rare/arbit/you won't find it at Crossword" books i.e. a snob value that the more discerning book-reader can flaunt. According to Mr. Manik Mani, the owner, he is not shutting the place down because the Joe Foxes have run him out of business, but because it took up valuable time that he'd now rather devote to his family and other pursuits.

I personally had an ambivalent relationship with it. My commercial engagement with books revolves around discovery, (physical) accessibility, and affordability. Both the first and the last have decisively shifted online. I also made heavy use of the 2-3 libraries I subscribed to, and thanks to Landmark's sponsorship of quizzes, I usually had coupons to the store right across the road. Also Manneys was shut on Sundays, the price of being run by an individual who also prized life-outside-work.

The term "old-fashioned" to describe stores like Manneys emits a whiff of both nostalgia and a certain exasperation. The latter because customer service can be limited, extended browsing is difficult, and there were no discounts to grease the palm. However, as alluded to before, Manneys was one of the few places in the city where you could find an interesting book, on History or the Sciences or Philosophy. In fact, that should read as "stumble upon", thanks to the higgledy-piggledy disarray on the racks. But you could find an entire shelf or two of Tagore's works, or books about plays, or about linguistics. Sometimes you found them when they fell out as you put back a book on the other side.

Given this emotional ambivalence and the fact that I've long since deserted the store, I can't be too sentimental at Manneys' departure. However, it had an undeniable 'heritage' value, for as expressed in this post about the changing landscape of Pune's landmarks (where, ironically, I evoke it), Manneys and its ilk were outposts in the otherwise bland 'sameification' of mall culture that has cloaked cities like Pune. I was planning to write up a post about book stores in Pune, and Manneys would have been among the first to be included. There will undoubtedly be a gaping hole in that list.

So I went to Manneys last Saturday for the last time (at least for now) and scooped up a bunch of books. I also noticed the immense goodwill that the store has obviously generated among its many customers, most of whom told Mr. Manik how much they would miss the store. I could not resist joining them to wish him a happy post-Manneys life.

Manneys has a discount sale until the 4th of February, Saturday (unless this has been extended). They still have lots of great books. In Dhammo-style, here are some of the ones I picked up:

  1. The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish : Neil Gaiman
  2. Two "William" books : Richmal Crompton
  3. The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot : Robert Arthur (Three Investigators series)
  4. Pale Fire : Vladimir Nabokov
  5. Southern Mail/Night Flight : Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  6. Dog Detective Ranjha : Partap Sharma (who recently passed away)
  7. The Story of Philosophy : Will Durant

George's post on a "defining bookstore of his life".

Some press articles about the store and its closure:

  1. The Economic Times
  2. DNA: local reaction
  3. Indian Express on when William Golding visited it