March 31 was a day of mourning for Bangalore’s bibliophiles. That was the day Gangarams Book Bureau, one of Bangalore’s most popular old bookshops, downed shutters on M G Road. It was forced to do so partly by the rise in rentals the Metro had set off. But perhaps as a silver lining, March 31 was also the day the doors were thrown open for the first time at Atta Galatta, a beautiful three-storey bookshop dedicated to Indian writing.
Atta Galatta is run by ex-copyeditor Lalitha Lakshmi and her husband Subodh Shankar, a former IT hand. They decided to convert their house in Koramangala into a bookshop housing books by Indian writers, in English and regional languages.
The curious name is a marriage of atta, the Kannada word for playing, and galatta, the Tamil word for boisterous fun. “Starting a bookshop had always been a dream of Lakshmi’s, and when we shifted to an apartment, we decided to use this house for it,” says Shankar. The couple’s wish to steer clear of a me-too bookshop, combined with the difficulty Lakshmi faced in finding good bookshops for regional literature, narrowed Atta Galatta’s focus to Indian writers. “We never did a proper market survey, because we’re not selling soap or biscuits. What we wanted to offer was an experience, not a commodity,” says Lakshmi. They did conduct a straw poll among friends, who were quick to discourage them. “But this is what we wanted to do,” says Shankar, “so we just went ahead.”
Work on the project began at the end of 2010. The original plan was to leave most of the 4,200 sq ft building as it was. “But we found that it wouldn’t be appealing if we did that,” says Shankar. So there was a lot of knocking down of walls and redecorating.
The effort was worth it. The top floor houses 10,000-odd books in English, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi in one section, while the rest is a large balcony with benches, chairs and windchimes that invites you to lounge with a book. “You can come, read a book and leave without buying it — no one will chase you out,” Shankar adds. Utopia for a book lover. There are also children’s books, where Lakshmi has had to relent and include staples like the American Goosebumps series.
The second floor is where the couple hosts literary events like plays and poetry readings on weekends. These events are also how they attract more footfalls, since the people who attend also wander upstairs to the bookshop. The ground floor is a soon-to-open bakery, overseen by another “IT refugee”, Sheela, who did a baking apprenticeship in France. “So atta in Atta Galatta is also a pun on the Hindi word for dough,” says Lakshmi.
The couple say they are satisfied with the response so far. The shop sold 150 books each in the first two months, and the number went up to 175 last month. “We’re lucky we don’t have to pay rent, which is usually the biggest overhead for bookstores. In fact, that’s what’s killing bookshops, not online sales,” says Shankar.
Rent, thankfully, hasn’t managed to strangle another venture in a different quarter of the city either, this one promoting Kannada literature. Guruprasad D N quit his job in the IT industry and opened Aakruti, a bookshop selling Kannada and English books in Rajaji Nagar in January last year. “There were no good bookshops for Kannada books in north Bangalore,” says the 28-year-old, who uses the shop as a venue for Kannada literary events as well. “One would have to go all the way to Gandhi Bazaar.”
Guruprasad has also launched the first ecommerce website exclusively for Kannada books, www.akrutibooks.com. It currently has 5,000 titles on sale. “Usually, the state libraries pick up 300 copies of every Kannada book published, so publishers are often satisfied with that. The retail customer ends up being under-served,” he says. His deduction is spot-on if one judges by the store’s monthly sales (online and physical), which have leapt from 30,000 copies in January 2011 to an astonishing 150,000 now. “We’ve managed to break even,” he says.
For those living in constant fear that their favourite bookshop-around-the-corner might be put out of business by a Fox Books (or the Metro), Guruprasad, Shankar and Lakshmi are welcome beacons.
Atta Galatta, 75 2nd Main, 1st Block, Koramangala (call 080-30181626), www.facebook.com/AttaGalattaKoramangala. Aakruti Books, No 31/1 12th Main, 3rd Block, Rajajinagar (call 080-23409479), www.akrutibooks.com