LIFESTYLE
05/12/2018 10:24 AM IST | Updated 06/12/2018 1:21 PM IST

How Bangalore Bookshop Atta Galatta Keeps Itself Going In A World Of E-Books

Set up in 2012 by Lakshmi and Subodh Sankar, it serves as a kind of cultural touchstone for Bangalore’s readers.

Atta Galatta/Facebook

Readers who lament that more and more bookstores are downing shutters should plan a trip to Bangalore, which has a delightful array of outlets to choose from—for bargains and serendipitous finds, there are Blossoms, Bookworm and Goobe's Book Republic, down Church Street; for children's books, visit Lightroom Bookstore in Cooke Town; and if you want a dose of cultural heft with your reading, go to Atta Galatta.

Atta Galatta, spread over the first and second floors of a building in the bustling Koramangala area, serves as a kind of cultural touchstone for Bangalore's readers, thanks to the many events it hosts. It is also an example of a bookstore that has managed to stay relevant in the times of Amazon and digital books, through a carefully curated collection, community of active readers and partnerships with literary festivals.

When you enter Atta Galatta, the range of books will compete with the aromatic filter coffee in the attached cafe to charm even reluctant readers.

You can find books in Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Urdu in Atta Galatta—these range from Premchand's Hindi classics to newer Tamil writers such as Perumal Murugan in Tamil.

It was set up in 2012 by Lakshmi and Subodh Sankar, who earlier sold insurance and owned a start-up, respectively. Lakshmi had dreamed of owning a bookstore for a long time. Atta Galatta soon expanded from a small, homey store in their own house to its current location.

Atta means 'play' in Kannada, and Galatta stands for noise, or fun.

"We chose the name because it stood for the kind of atmosphere we wanted to create...to take the formality away from art and literature and it sounded good," says Subodh.

Focus on regional languages

The two were clear that they wanted to set aside a lot of shelf space for Indian writing, both in English and regional languages.

"Not many mainstream stores in the city stock regional books and people who enjoyed reading books in their mother tongue would often have to go back to their hometown to stock up on such books," says Subodh.

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You can find books in Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Urdu in Atta Galatta—these range from Premchand's classics to newer Tamil writers such as Perumal Murugan in Tamil. Atta Galatta's community of readers is extremely involved, says Subodh, and gives suggestions about new books that should be added to the collection.

The Sankars knew that they would have to offer something special if they wanted to bring people to an old-fashioned bookstore in the times of digital books and Amazon. To accomplish this, they envisaged the store as a space where people could interact with each other, with books being the common point. The way they did this was by opening up the store as a platform for literary and artistic interaction.

Atta Galatta/Facebook
Atta Galatta 2

Active reading community

From book readings and launches to workshops, plays and lively storytelling sessions, Atta Galatta has been hosting events since the time it was set up.

For the uninitiated, author Nandita Bose explains,"Atta Galatta has been my coffee haunt, most loved cultural space and my spiritual home."

Bose, who writes urban novels about relationships, attends most events at the store and has even hosted a few herself.

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"Atta Galatta was set up at the same time when my first book, Tread Softly, was launched and they have been extremely supportive of my work," she says.

24-year-old Maimuna Bilal Patel says she she has been coming to Atta Galatta regularly for the past two years, all the way from K.R Puram on the other side of town. She discovered Atta Galatta because her college was in the area.

The Sankars say that the bookstore turned into one of Bangalore's cultural centres because of the support from its patrons and publishers.

"I like the calm atmosphere here," she says, although she admits it can get quite noisy during events.

Patel seems to be one among the many youngsters that Atta Galatta has happily adopted into their little family.

The Sankars say that the bookstore turned into one of Bangalore's cultural centres because of the support from its patrons and publishers.

"It is the people who have come and done such wonderful events at Atta Galatta. Bangalore as a city lacked spaces for such creative experiences before but things have changed in the past couple of years," says Subodh.

Smart partnerships

It has been a long journey, sometimes happy and sometimes frustrating, says Lakshmi.

Being the official bookstore for the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF) and the Bangalore Poetry Festival—which Atta Galatta has organised—has helped it survive in the times of online shopping.

"The kind of book sales that happen at BLF is mad!" Subodh said.

Atta Galatta is also the official bookstore for Lekhana—a smaller, intimate literature festival that likes to showcase local talent.

Author and co-founder of Sangam House Arshia Sattar, who also runs Lekhana, just walked into Atta Galatta one day and asked them to be the bookstore for the festival.

"We were terrified," Subodh says. "We didn't know whether we would live up to her expectations and we didn't want to disappoint Arshia of all people."

Atta Galatta also turned to publishing in 2016, when they produced Karna Kavita, a book of Hindi poetry by 30 amateur Bangalore-based poets.

But it went smoothly, giving them the confidence to manage bigger festivals like BLF, which they joined in 2015.

"BLF prides itself on being a small, homely and warm affair and that's the kind of bookstore we are too," says Subodh.

Atta Galatta also turned to publishing in 2016, when they produced Karna Kavita, a book of Hindi poetry by 30 amateur Bangalore-based poets. Sourav Roy, one of the founders of Anjuman, an event that Atta Galatta curates, once spoke to Lakshmi about the difficulty in finding publishers for Hindi poetry, which led to her decision to step in.

Publishing books is more of a passion than a business at the moment, the Sankars say.

Last year, Atta Galatta published film and theatre actor Padmavati Rao's book of bilingual poetry—Of Love and Longing. Since then, they've published two more books of poetry—Dewed by Bose and Three Halves by Amruta Dongray, which were launched at the Bangalore Poetry Festival earlier this year. Their most recent book, Jest Like That, an anthology of humorous stories edited by Shinie Antony, was launched on 1 December.