Lakshmi Sankar has the perfect job: running a bookstore. Born in a moment of serendipity, Atta Galatta has over the years become a cultural institution, which Bangaloreans flock to, to read, learn, and find a community. She speaks to SheThePeople.TV about how she promotes the habit of reading, and how it is so much more than just words to paper.
How did the idea of Atta Galatta come about?
I am a student of English Literature. Half of my class wanted to start a bookstore. Anybody who loves books has this as a secret ambition. Every year I would ask my husband the same question- should we start a bookstore. He would say it’s not the right time. We had travelled to Singapore one year, and when we came back our tenants had vacated. We decided to runt that space into the bookstore. My husband brings his strengths to the table. He is very good in social situations, marketing and he is focused.
Over the years Atta Galatta has become an institution. Running a bookstore is a tough business. How did you go about building the store into a cultural landmark for Bangaloreans? What are some early ideas you implemented?
We realized that we wanted to set ourselves apart from other books stores. We wanted to focus on Indian writing. We wanted to give it an Indian name. Galatta means noise. We wanted the bookstore to be the place where lots of things happen.
We realized that we wanted to set ourselves apart from other books stores. We wanted to focus on Indian writing. We wanted to give it an Indian name. Galatta means noise. We wanted the bookstore to be the place where lots of things happen. It is not enough to put books on shelves, it is important to provide a rich environment. Otherwise, you can always order on Amazon. We wanted to provide an environment in which people would come spend time at the bookstore and thought that running events would be the best option. We want to bring different kinds of people - college kids, married couples- to the store. We have everything from standup comedy, movies, to dance performances. It's a bit of chaos. We run different programs catering to different people. We run a cafe where everything is below Rs 100. Events are not exclusive. We have a lot of free events. All the book events are free. Our revenue stream is the selling of the books, cafe and the events.
You have a daughter. How does your job impact her? How does one inculcate the habit of reading in one's children in the age of the smartphones?
She's studying English Literature in Canada. She used to be my cashier at the cafe. We have curated a couple of events that are just Atta Galatta's and she manages many of our events. She has always been involved. I don't think you should be lecturing your children. The easiest thing to do is to set an example and start reading yourself. Give children opportunities to explore books in different forms. Find out what interests them and take them to different cultural spaces. Your environment influences you. If they see everyone else doing it, they will try it.
You mention that you see parents and kids trying to pick up books written by Indian authors. What topics do these books cover? Which kind of books are the most popular?
A lot of small publishers have come out with beautiful books. It feels like they are talking about us, not about jam butter sandwiches. They are talking about idlis and dosas. Our books talk about our stories, our culture.
I am doing something different. I am providing a holistic literary experience. We have a band of people who know each other because of Atta Gallata.
What's the future for Atta Galata?
I want to keep it running as long as I can. Nothing is permanent in life. You have to adjust to your path. When I started the bookstore a lot of book stores were closing. I don't look at Amazon and the like as competitors.
I am doing something different. I am providing a holistic literary experience. We have a band of people who know each other because of Atta Gallata. Art is connected to books. Bookstores aren't for nerds or literary people to hang out in.