Bengaluru and Bookstores

Why the Garden City is a Mecca for Bibliophiles

Way back in 2009, I made a trip to Bengaluru. I don’t remember much else about that short break, except for the fact that it was post-Christmas, deliciously cold, and we ate a lot of great food. The one thing I still remember in vivid detail is the first time I stepped into Blossom Book House. I remember my hair standing on end upon witnessing row after row of books. Paperbacks stacked higgledy-piggledy, coffee table books used as makeshift err coffee tables, and comics stuffed into corners. My book-loving heart literally exploded. I ended up returning to Blossom three more times on that trip. A few months later, I returned to Bengaluru with my bookworm daughter and an empty suitcase, with the sole intention of raiding Blossom. Let’s just say that excess baggage was paid on that trip. But it was worth every paise. 

I’ve travelled to Bengaluru several times since then, and even during the briefest of trips, I have always squeezed in a dash to Church Street and its bookish wonders. I soon discovered that Blossom was not the holy grail of bookshops in the city (my favourite, but not the only one). On Church Street (and around the Garden City), several bookshops catered to every book nerd’s heart. I made it my mission to discover more and more of these gems with every trip I took. 

There are several theories about the proliferation of bookshops in Bengaluru. Some attribute it to the rising middle class in the city, others insist that the city’s many educational institutes and large student population have something to do with it. There are murmurs about the IT boom causing this reading resurrection (but no one pays much heed to this theory). On the other hand, I don’t care much for the whys and am more interested in the where’s. Where will I find that second-hand copy I’ve been looking for? Where can I get the best bargain? Where will I be able to spend hours, nestled with a stack of books, without being interrupted? These are the answers I need.  

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Let’s begin with the big daddy of bookstores – Higginbothams. As you leave the metro at MG Road and walk towards the ever-bustling Brigade Road, you can’t miss the imposing structure of the city’s oldest bookshop – Higginbothams. Established in 1905 as a sister concern to the original Higginbothams in Madras (touted as the oldest bookshop in India), the bookstore was the talk of the town. MG Road was then known as The Victorian South Parade Road, and as the name connotes, it was the place to see and be seen. While MG Road today may have paled in terms of glamour, Higginbotham’s still continues to draw the crowds. The three-storied edifice remains a testament to the fact that books and reading still flourish. The store recently underwent a complete upgrade. It now boasts a compact cafe, a dedicated children’s and young adult section, and a whimsical cerulean blue ceiling painted with clouds and birds. There are books for everyone here, so head on down if it’s manga or Michael Crichton that gets you going. 

The Charms of Church Street 

As you turn off MG Road and before you get lost in the shops and mini-malls that line Brigade Road, take a turn onto Church Street. A 750-metre stretch that runs parallel to MG Road underwent a complete facelift a few years ago. Today, vibrant street art and murals liven up drab commercial buildings while food stalls and gift shops joust for your attention. 

Named after St. Mark’s Cathedral (which stands at one end of the street), walking down Church Street is a lovely way to spend a morning. Don’t forget to pop into Third Wave Coffee for a fortifying espresso before diving into the real attraction – the bookshops of Church Street. 

Just opposite the colourful metro station is The Bookworm. From the outside, the store looks disconcertingly modern. I step into the neon green entrance with a fair bit of trepidation, sure that I am walking into another “bookshop in name but gift store in real” store. You know the type I refer to. Thankfully, my fears were put to rest almost immediately. While the front part of the store is spiffy with all the usual rom-com, teenage angst titles and self-help books so popular today, as you burrow deeper into the store, the real treasure awaits. Turn a corner, and the modern world fades away. Bookshelves groaning with tomes, stacks of novels ready to trip you up, and stools and benches placed for optimum escapism. I found a couple of impossible-to-find murder mysteries for my crime-loving mum, older edition sci-fi titles for the husband, and a joyful plethora of old-school Enid Blyton’s for the kids. Bookworm ships to wherever in the country you are, so if it’s a lot of shopping you plan to do, never fear. 

We moved on, already deliciously burdened with bags full of books, to my favourite place in Bengaluru – Blossom Book Shop. There are now two Blossoms in Church Street itself. The original and the second outlet above Matteo Cafe. We visited both on a recent trip. While the newer store seems larger and more organised, my heart lies in the dusty, jam-packed original Blossom. Mayi Gowda, the owner of Blossom, is a well-known name among the city’s literary circles. An engineer turned librarian/bookshop owner, Gowda is determined to infect all those who enter his stores with a love for books. Blossom boasts a huge range of books in every genre you can imagine. There are rare and first edition titles, comic books and graphic novels, pre-loved romance novels, popular non-fiction, and a children’s section filled to bursting. Your day can slip away from you as you tunnel through the bookstacks, so be warned. Blossom also has a Buy-Back policy, where you can return your books and buy some more at a discount – a popular option among locals. I recently discovered that Blossoms has an online shopping site, which is a very dangerous discovery. 

Girl Power and Group Discussions

My most recent addition to must-visit bookstores is Champaca. I first came across Champace during the pandemic. I read about their Book Subscription service, and I was hooked. Every month, Champaca chooses a theme and sends a curated novel (and maybe a companion one) along with local artists’ postcards or stationery. As a service member, you can access the book club and the online forum to discuss the month’s books. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique opportunity to read books I may have never picked up. So, when we last visited, I made it a point to get myself to Champaca in person. Not too easy to find, this independently run, female-powered bookstore is nestled on the first floor of a bungalow on Edwards Road. Surrounded by swaying branches, there is a distinct feel of a magical treehouse to Champaca. A tiny cafe offers juices and home bakes (Ps: the quiche was delicious), and there’s an adorable children’s corner/lending library tucked away into a corner. But by and large, you are left to your own devices and can while away the afternoon browsing, reading, and collecting a satisfying stash of cookbooks and historical titles to take home. Friends tell me that Champaca also arranges indie film screenings, workshops, and music evenings at their gorgeous little space, so check them out and support this local cultural movement. 

More for Later 

There are several more independent bookshops in Church Street and around the city that I haven’t visited yet. There’s the much-lauded Goobe’s Book Republic. Known for its second-hand books collection, I am told, this basement store stocks some esoteric titles and a gorgeous collection of cookbooks. There’s also The Book Hive if you are looking for classics and first editions, and Gangaram is known for its collection of textbooks, academic guides, and fiction. I’ve definitely put these three on my to-do list for my next trip to Bangalore. 

I spoke to a friend, Keerat, who shares my obsession with books and bookshops and asked her about her Bangalore bibliophilia and what she loved the most about the city’s famous bookstores. She perfectly summed up our love for this book-loving city: “When I first moved to Bangalore in 2011, Church Street became my favourite place to hang out for the sheer number of bookstores. If Paris has Shakespeare and Co., Bangalore has Blossoms. The managers at any of the bookstores in the city are always game to help you find that one obscure book on your reading list. The old-school metal shelves and piles of books add a sheen of authenticity that new-age bookstores lack. Church Street has several other stores with curated selections of books to lure you in, and you almost always walk out with more books you can read. I haven’t experienced that in any other city in India, for sure. A city that welcomes and comforts readers like no other.” 

This was a commissioned piece but all views expressed are my own

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