Building Vocabularies and Libraries

By ILT Bureau

December 27, 2017

The word and the book; both hook you for life. And here are two people who have been with me since almost two decades in my pursuit of the written word. No, they are not writers. And quite coincidentally both are engineers; but known to the world in a realm quite far from what they had trained to be.

Meet Mayi Gowda and Anu Garg. The former runs a business and the latter offers a free service, but both connect to the reader by the written word. Gowda obliges the bibliophile and Garg keeps the linguaphile happy. Gowda runs the Blossom Book House in Bangalore, known to be the one of the most popular of the second-handbook shops in India.

His business is more than a bookshop to many. And Garg is the A.Word.A.Day man, whose daily email to you is referred to by The New York Times as ‘arguably the most welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace’.

Anu Garg was born in rural Uttar Pradesh and went to the local school, growing up knowing only Hindi. He did not see a library till he went to college. But what he read, he read deeply. Cover to cover, wondering where words came from, discovering each word has a biography and a story to tell.

Then he moved to the United States in the early nineties like any Indian techie (yes, the times of Unix and C), and his love for the word sustained. Later on, it took over his life. Garg left corporate work and founded wordsmith.org in 1994 with a mission to spread the magic of words.

To this day, he sends out a mail everyday to his subscribers, now numbered at 400,000 and from across more than 170 countries. The mail is simple. It contains a word, its definition, its etymology, and demonstrates its current contextual usage.

For today, a very attention-grabbing quote from a famous person who has a connection with that specific day. The mail is addictive, I assure you.

Blossom Book House, Bangalore is just as addictive. I was there first in 2011, and the inviting row upon row, stack upon stack of books arranged without fashion or fad just swallowed me whole. I emptied out my purse, borrowed from my companion, and bought a new suitcase, just for that one day’s purchase at Blossom Book House. And I have always gone back every time I visit Bangalore.

And there are corners in the store which evoke waves of nostalgia; dusty blue and shiny red-brown hard bound covers straight out of my childhood with personal inscriptions and timelines which send you down memory lane.

I found a 1970 hard bound edition of Rebecca once, and cannot thank Mayi Gowda enough for this discovery. Find your Enid Blytons, M&Bs, Ruth Rendells, Agatha Christies, Mandrakes, Phantoms, Tintins, Classics, old Feminas…I could go on and on. And of course there are the new books, at 20% discount, and you might find yourself standing next to Ramachandra Guha or Shashi Deshpande, so watch out.

Mayi Gowda, is from rural Mysore, and his family were agriculturists who could not afford to fund his dream to do engineering studies in the city. Gowda arrived in Bangalore, enrolled at college, and to fund his studies started selling books on the pavement. In two years, his daily sales grew to INR 1500.

Meanwhile, he graduated and got placed in GE, but a fortnight was all he could give this job. He quit. And set up a 200 sq.ft. store for used books in busy Church Street in 2002. And the business now stands spread over three floors and 3500 sq.ft. with the credit of being the largest second-hand book store in India storing some 2,00,000 books.

Anu Garg offers more than the A.Word.A.Day mail. There’s the Internet Anagram Server that can be used to generate anagrams of a word or phrase. The Wordserver offers dictionary, thesaurus, acronym, and anagram services by email. There’s also an anagram animation engine, a forum to discuss words and languages, and a few other services.

But A.Word.A.Day is still the most popular service. So how does he choose his word of the day? Anu says the words choose him rather than the other way around. He has a theme for each week. One week it might be eponyms, the next it could be words dealing with cuisine, but you can be sure the series is going to be not just educative but appealing too.

Look at this week of words dealing with weather: Aeolian, virga, El-Nino, pluvial, nimbus. Or words that appear rude but are not: cockup, crapulous, pricket, fard, cunctation. Know their meanings? No? It might be fun checking them up. And perhaps getting that free subscription while you are at it.

Every day one hears of print books dying and famous book stores closing down; of people no longer reading and languages losing students and speakers. Is Anu Garg or Mayi Gowda apprehensive of these possibilities? I should think not, looking at the number of people subscribing to Garg’s emails or returning to buy from Gowda.

The latter’s turnover is now reported to be INR 45 Lakhs per month, with innumerable returning customers who are not only locals. And there’s a second store opened in 2016 just down the street, spread over a massive 8650 sq.ft. And he sells not just English books, but Hindi, Kannada, Telugu books too. So there.

Looks like all is right with the word!

PS: Wonder what people shopping for books at Blossom talk about? Shhhh…Just listen in to what people overhear at Blossom.

(Suneetha Balakrishnan is a bilingual translator, writer and journalist from Kerala. She can be reached at suneethabalakrishnan@gmail.com )

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indialivetoday and Indialivetoday does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.