Under my byline

Where economics is poetry

Posted in Architecture/Design, Books by Rrishi on 18 January 2009

Oxford Bookstore in the heart of Delhi is hard to get to, and hard to get around

The Delhi branch of the Kolkata-based Oxford Bookstore chain is, at first sight, brilliantly located. It’s on a busy corner opposite Connaught Place. From its floor-to-ceiling windows a visitor can watch the human and motor traffic tumble through the intersection where Barakhamba Road debouches into Outer Circle. On the window side of the store is the Cha Bar, a tea-coffee-snacks place which is usually buzzing pleasantly with people and voices.

Oddly, then, it’s not the easiest place to get to. A wall prevents access from the main road or CP side, where one imagines most customers will want to enter. The only way in is from the service lane to the side, a moist and potholed thoroughfare that serves the giant parking lot behind. And if for any reason you are unable to climb three flights of steep stairs, you won’t be able to visit at all — a fault of the architect rather than the outlet.

Once you’re in and browsing, you will hit another hurdle: Oxford’s classification system is impossibly eccentric. You’ll find the spiritualist Gurdjieff on the Science shelves; Jared Diamond’s non-fiction Guns, Germs and Steel in Fiction, along with Alvin Toffler; Freakonomics, the popular economics blockbuster, in Poetry; and so on.

It’s more than just wrong spines rubbing together — those spines are being rubbed the wrong way. One of Oxford’s great pluses is that you are free to sit and browse. That becomes a minus when the result is beaten-up merchandise. I would have bought Martin Amis’s The House of Meetings if it didn’t look as if it had travelled through China with a backpacker.

There’s now a polite sign on the Cha Bar counter asking patrons to desist from reading while eating. I noticed it while waiting: for my glass of adrak chai, then for the bill, then for the change. It all takes a while, which is okay if you’re people-watching or chatting. You can’t read while you wait, of course.

I asked at the desultorily manned sales counter whether they had Peter Drucker’s classic Adventures of a Bystander, which they didn’t. It wasn’t in “the system” — no surprise, it’s an American publication — but they had no way to order it for me either. Besides, I had to spell “bystander” for the young lady at the counter.

And that may be Oxford’s main problem: a lack of knowledgeable staff. It’s the people that make a bookstore, not the location or the food.

Score: 5/10. Nice place to sit, not so great for buying books.

(Another Mystery Guest. See previous one.)

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