‘It’s not just Church Street’: In Bengaluru, these three Kannada bookshops have their own identities

Because Kannada writers are stars in their own right, with a wide readership.

“I went to England to see daffodils celebrated by Wordsworth ‘tossing their heads in sprightly dance’. And I have a dream. I dream of a time when people who visit Karnataka want to smell the fragrant Mysore jasmines, eat the bananas of Nanjangud and read the great vachanas of Basaveshwara and Allama Prabhu. I dream of a time when those who admire the wanderings of Joyce’s hero Daedalus also open their eyes to the rich Dalit world that Kuvempu’s character Nayigutti leads us into.”

— From "Ooru And The World", UR Ananthamurthy

In his stellar profile of the readers of queer author Vasudhendra, the writer and translator Srinath Perur speaks of how Kannada authors tend to be very approachable to their readers. In Vasudhendra’s case this meant that an assortment of people, ranging from a middle age Vedic astrologer in Bengaluru to a 27-year-old farmer in North Karnataka, reached out to him after his book Mohanaswamy was published, which Perur describes as “the first book of fiction in Kannada with well-realised gay characters.”

Vasudhendra’s work was quietly revolutionary, and his readers not only offered him critiques but opened up to him about their personal struggles. These were conversations Vasudhendra was ready to have, being equipped with his year-long training in basic counselling.

Working on this piece at a crowded military restaurant in Jayanagar, the sight of its walls adorned with framed photographs of writers and intellectuals like UR Ananthamurthy, Da Ra Bendre and Girish Karnad, instead of those of the founders or of deities, reinforced a fact I had known about this city – it takes its writers seriously.

For those who read Kannada literature in Bengaluru, the Kannada literary world espouses an immediacy, a certain rajas that the writer S Diwakar explores well in his essay “Oh, Come To Gandhibazar!”

“For someone like me, with a deep, abiding passion for literature, terribly frightened of writing, and with an overall touch-me-not attitude, it was in this Gandhibazar that I was able to interact with litterateurs...We would walk towards Sanman Café to have coffee. Here, we would be joined by our other friends. (Gopalakrishna) Adiga would light a cigarette, offer it to those who smoked among us and, as soon as the coffee arrived, he would set the day’s discussion in motion. Who’s written what, Indira Gandhi’s administration, an analysis of Eliot’s poetry, Brezhnev’s autocratic ways, the prevailing price of coconut, the static state of this country, where even a matchstick fails to ignite…Anything under the sun could become a subject of our discussion. We would talk, talk, and talk.”

— Translated by Deepa Ganesh

As someone who can neither read nor write in Kannada, despite a few spirited attempts eventually consumed by the laxity of one who has been introduced to the language pretty late in life, I’ve always been an intrepid outsider gazing into what I’ve perceived as a deeply rich tradition. The canards that surrounded these literary figures, conveyed to me by those on the inside, all animated with their own “chronotope” – to unfairly drag Mikhail Bakthin into this essay – fascinated me and soon I found myself indiscriminately purchasing translations of works by any Kannada author.

This was a process greatly encouraged by beginning my journey with AK Ramanujan’s moving translations of the Vachanas of Basaveshwara (“I don’t know anything like time-beats and metre /nor the arithmetic of strings and drums; / I don’t know the count of iamb or dactyl/ My lord of the meeting rivers/ as nothing will hurt you/ I’ll sing as I love.”). At a talk I attended recently that featured writers Vivek Shanbhag and Zac O’ Yeah, the former – now an internationally acclaimed Kannada author – spoke of a schism between Bengaluru’s Kannada and Anglophone writers: “These two worlds never meet.”

Writer Vivek Shanbhag at Aakruti Books
Writer Vivek Shanbhag at Aakruti Books

This lament is echoed by Guruprasad D Narayana, the owner of Aakruti Books in Rajajinagar “For example, a writer like Anita Nair is not known as a Bengaluru writer amongst Kannada readers in Bengaluru even though she writes about Bengaluru. I think there must be an effort by both sides.” However, English-to-Kannada translations are bogged down by another hurdle. “Kannada books are priced very cheaply, we go by the page basically,” says Guruprasad, who has published 17 books in Kannada. “With English books, you find that they are not only priced higher but the publishers retain the translation rights too, which are expensive to acquire.”

A consensus emerges that translation is indeed the first step in bridging the gap between these two worlds. “I think some our greatest writers have remained within the Kannada circle as their work is not translated into other languages, especially English,” says Vasant Shetty the owner of Munnota Books in Basavanagudi “As a first step, drawing non-Kannadigas to Kannada should happen through translations of Kannada’s greatest literature to English and possibly other Indian languages. The onset of English medium education has also created a big chunk of Kannadigas who mostly read English and are oblivious to Kannada literature.”

Bengaluru is perhaps the only true multilingual metropolis in India, a city where linguistic diversity is not merely a postcard of cosmopolitanism and tolerance, but, rather, a customary feature of daily living. In the fascinating and subtle documentary, Shankar Nag Kelkond Bandaga (When Shankar Nag Comes Asking), an auto-rickshaw driver at the Shankar Nag Auto Stand in Basaveshwaranagar likens the city to “a vast ocean.”

Four years after the release of this documentary the city has only become even more vast, plunging head-on into what Pankaj Mishra described in 1995 as “going the way other Indian cities had gone before it, letting entropy do its slow inexorable thing, turn(ing) this once elegant cantonment town into another urban Indian nightmare.”

In an increasingly detached urban milieu, both bookstores seem to understand the value of having freewheeling spaces for darbar and discussion like Diwakar’s Gandhibazar of yore. “Munnota has so far hosted over 30 talks in the last 10 months alone. We live in a day and time where people to people interactions are becoming rarer due to social media. While fully recognising the positive impact of social media on the society, I still believe nothing can replace the beauty of people to people interactions!” says Vasant Shetty.

Aakruti books hosts informal talks by established Kannada authors and holds poetry discussions and recitals covering the Navodaya and Navya canon. Guruprasad is also attempting to bring out a long form literary journal with a friend. “Back then,” he says, “authors like DV Gundappa and Gopalakrishna Adiga had their own small magazines. Even Lankesh Patrike used to do important work for literature. I’m trying to start a quality journal that has stories in Kannada, stories translated into Kannada from regional languages, and interviews.”

My hour-long conversation with Guruprasad was illuminating, touching, on among other subjects, an obscure poet from Mysuru who has released a collection of poems titled Ramu Kavithegalu (The Poems Of Ramu), the relevance of Umberto Eco’s writing in modern-day India, and the dearth of Kannada translations of Latin American literature.

All this enlightened rambling left me feeling strange that our paths hadn’t crossed given our similar interests, “There is a biased view that Bangalorean reading culture is restricted to Church Street, nobody will talk about Nagasri Book House for example,” he grumbles, adding a polite but valid rebuke. “I had read your article about those shops last week, I needed a dictionary! Just yesterday, I read an essay by Sartre and didn’t have that much trouble.”

How then do those intrepid ones in the sea of outsiders who make this city their home annually dive into this literary tradition? “Acquiring reading and writing comprehension in a new language is a tough skill,” admits Shetty. “Anyone new to the Kannada world should first start by learning spoken Kannada. There are many initiatives by techies in this space (Munnota, Kannada Gottilla). Once they gain some proficiency in spoken Kannada, they can start attending literary talks that take all the time at various places like Ravindra Kalakshetra, Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Indian Institute of World Culture.” Guruprasad offers a more grounded approach. “Watch the movies, however bad they are.”

The audience at a book event at Munnota Bookshop
The audience at a book event at Munnota Bookshop

Both the Munnota and Aakruti bookshops are fledgling enterprises compared to the older Kannada bookstores in town, “If you ask me, I can’t really think of a reason why I started the bookstore even now seven years down the line.” says Guruprasad, an engineer by training. “I’ve always been interested in literature and I even wrote film reviews for Kannada Prabha for a few years. I just wanted to be involved in literature, I hope to write a book some day.”

Shetty started Munnota bookstores in 2016 with a couple of friends. By day he works for a tech company “It’s a niche bookstore with curated Kannada (90%) and English (10%) books on federalism, language reforms, language planning, the history of Kannada, Karnataka, entrepreneurship, and science and technology. There are several Kannada bookstores in Bengaluru but we wanted to get good, objective, well researched books on these areas under one roof.”

Guruprasad, on the other hand, started his bookshop with the aim of providing a more general literary catalogue for Kannada readers in North Bengaluru. “South Bengaluru is where all the bookstores are,” he says. “Over here in Rajajinagar, I might be the only general bookstore. But I think I overestimated how many readers there would be. Also, their spending capacity seems to be lower.”

“One thing I’ve observed here and in other bookshops,” Guruprasad continues, is that people don’t simply browse for books anymore. The internet and e-commerce has probably contributed to this. When they come to the bookstore they know exactly what they want. Just browsing and discovering a surprise amongst the bookshelves is a culture that’s died.”

Venkatesh KV at Nagasri Book House
Venkatesh KV at Nagasri Book House

Nagasri Book House is located in the Jayanagar BDA commercial complex and can be a little tricky to find if you don’t ask for directions. “They started work on this building in 2011,” says Venkatesh KV, pointing at a massive deserted mall-like structure that was built to give the Jayanagar Commercial Complex a swank new edge, “But before that you could see our shop clearly from the main road. It was completed in 2015, but neither the BBMP nor the BDA (city corporations in Bengaluru) have claimed ownership of it, so it’s just lying here. Look, you can see the weeds growing in the parking driveway.”

Nagasri Book House is a 41-year-old establishment that stocks English as well as Kannada titles. Its catalogue is impressive, clearly geared towards serious readers “What you see in these big bookshops and malls today are the same kind of books stacked one on top of another, says Venkatesh. “Who goes to malls to read anyway?” The location, Jayanagar, a predominantly Kannada-speaking part of the city, ensures a healthy shelf presence for Kannada writers. “Kuvempu, Shivarama Karanth, woman writers like Triveni, the crime writer TK Rama Rao who wrote thrillers like Agatha Christie did – their books are very popular in our shop,” says Venkatesh.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.


As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.


So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.


As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”


By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.