Upon landing in Bangalore, I could only thought of bookshops. There is of course my beloved Blossoms, which I eagerly introduced to my travel companion. He was as excited as I was when I first discovered Blossoms. We spent two hours in the three-story book warehouse, squealing upon finding the art books, the graphic novels, the books of our childhood, and the non-fictions of our young adult life. After leaving Blossoms with our wallet considerably thinner and our bags much heavier, I took him down Church Street to a place I call The Bookshop Below.
The Bookshop Below has a real name, of course. It calls itself Goobee’s, but I gave the nickname because you have to look below the street to find the bookshop on the basement. Goobee’s is much smaller in size and collection compared to Blossoms, but it has a character you won’t easily forget. For one, its full name is Goobe’s Book Republic. Don’t you wonder what kind of book the other books would elect to become a leader in their republic? For another, it lends books in addition to selling second hand ones, is graced with a chandelier made of old books, and features a happy looking owl and bright green paint for its décor.
More than anything though, I remember the owner. I first found Goobee’s two years ago in a desperate attempt to find an important book during a trip to Bangalore, when Blossoms failed me for the first time. The owner greeted me the moment I stepped below the stairs. Perhaps because he saw desperation written all over my face; more likely because he does that for all his customers. My book was nowhere to be found, but he took down my e-mail and promised to contact me if he managed to locate the book within the five days I was to be in Bangalore.
I didn’t have high hopes, but Goobee’s came through. His e-mail arrived on the morning of my last day and I came running to The Bookshop Below, suitcase and all, and thanked him profusely for finding the book. He told me that he got curious because I tried so hard to find it, so he started reading the book and thought it really is quite good. I looked at him as I paid, this bearded man with his cotton shirt, shorts, and glasses, and thought if only he knew how much the book meant to me. How much I had hoped for the book to help me make sense of the turmoil that I was in, how much I longed to understand.
And it did. This book, which shall remain unnamed, did help me understand and it did help me make sense. I devoured the pages during my flight back to Jakarta and landed feeling much calmer than the months before. I have never read the book again, but it now sits on my bookshelf as a reminder of my quest for calm and of The Bookshop Below.
So it is with fondness that I returned to Goobee’s, and with a much calmer heart. My travel companion got excited once again and roamed the bookshelves hoping to find a book of old Bollywood posters for his arts collective. The owner was sitting in his corner, also in a cotton shirt and shorts, and once again he stood up to greet me.
He began telling me that he was going for a lunch break and that his assistant would help us, but then a look of recognition flashed on his face and he said, “You’ve been here before.”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. “Yes. Once, two years ago.”
“I hope you’re going to find what you’re looking for this time,” he said before waving good bye. I only smiled and waved back.
I wasn’t looking for anything, but at that moment I found something more precious than books.
I’ve been coming to Bangalore once every two years since 2008, initially for work and research, but increasingly for passion and friends. The more I visit, the more I think of bookshops and tea cafes than temples or museums –a sign of the city getting under my skin, of me thinking it as one of my own. And I do, for Bangalore always seems to be a place where I could look a little deeper into myself, challenge my beliefs a little bit more, and inch a little closer towards coming to terms with agonizing questions and dilemmas. Over the years, from my time in Bangalore I have learned to walk alone in the streets with my head high instead of looking down to avoid unwanted attention, that my clothes has nothing to do with how safe I am on the streets, that the best medicine is time, and that although it was difficult to accept, the right decision was to return to Jakarta. For all of those and beyond, Bangalore really feels like one of my own cities, one that I cherish as much as Jakarta and Den Haag.
I know how much Bangalore means to me, but only when Goobee’s owner recognized me I feel that it also thinks of me as one of its own. It was as if the city whispered to me, “You belong here.”
I saw him again a few nights after, in a bar called the Hummingtrees to watch Sha’iir and Func, a band that definitely sings louder than a hum. He passed me on his way to the door, paused, and came back with a handshake.
“My name is Ravi,” he said. “Did you get anything the last time you came?”
I shook my head and he shook his fore finger in return.
“The next time you come, you should get a book,” he said. And then he broke into a grin. “Kidding. I was just giving you a hard time. You are welcome to come by anytime and look at books.”
“I will,” I said with a big smile, for he was right. I am sure that there will be a next time in Bangalore, and when it comes I will come to The Bookshop Below to look at books, to buy one, and to remember that I belong.
Gypsytoes, July 2014