By the end of this week, Nalini Chettur’s little big bookshop, Giggles, will have left the Taj Connemara, where it has been housed for over four decades now, forever. The end has been bitter, but Nalini does not think so at all. Last year, when I interviewed her a year after she was asked to leave, she barely told me that the Connemara had filed a case against her and a couple of shops around hers for not leaving. She had asked me not to mention it in the article.
That’s grace for you. I insisted that I should mention it now and she grudgingly agrees, asking the opinion of her knights and dames in shining armour (all members of the group Broke Bibliophiles who had come to her rescue two years ago when they first heard about Giggles closing down) who are all helping out, as they usually do, sitting around on stools and chairs on a balmy Saturday evening in Madras.
“They’ve been very good to me,” says Nalini of Connemara and she actually means it. Her generosity of spirit and fairness is unfailing. She resents the word bitter in my article.
It is not, however , the end of the road for Giggles. Nalini is adamant that the bookshop must continue. “Giggles cannot die,” she says. Indeed, the little big bookshop is not just bigger than all of us, but also, if it is allowed to die, it will close a space opened up in the world of books by Nalini Chettur four decades ago, the much needed space of the intelligent and committed independent bookstore. While many such spaces have been closing all across the country, Nalini is far from finished, and will not let this happen to Giggles.
She still orders books for select customers, still harangues laggard distributors for not being professional and is still looking for a place in uptown Madras to relocate Giggles. “I am hopeful,” she says. ‘Things do have a way of falling into place.”
It has been a difficult three years for Nalini since she was asked to move. It has taken a toll on her health and on her little bookshop’s fortunes, though she would not agree. She has had to clean out the space that used to be so cluttered, but she herself sat out of it. With her trusty Man Friday Krishnamurthy, the little bookshop has been cleaned out and it turned out to be not so little at all. Old, white-ant eaten but gorgeous furniture had to be thrown away, old books had decayed but others had to be restored and for the discerning bibliophile, rare gems were to be found amidst the rubble.
Ironically, as the little room began to breathe again, it is only to say goodbye. But unlike Polly in Mike Leigh’s film Happy-Go-Lucky, who does not get to say goodbye to her bicycle, we all say goodbye to the space that housed Giggles for decades as we carry that board into the future where it will hopefully settle again.
But Nalini has no time for nostalgia. “So, what exciting stuff is out in the market? What have you been reading?” she asks, that sparkle very much alive in her eye and voice.
Nalini still keeps rare and difficult-to-find books and can be contacted at email@example.com. Like Polly, Nalini remains cheerful and optimistic in the face of terrifying odds. Giggles will live.