With legendary bookstores closing down all over the country, causing deep anguish to booklovers, SheThePeople.TV thought it would be interesting to know the secret behind those who have not only survived the phase but created interactive cultural hubs out of their book spaces. The session saw Ramesh and Rasika Rathiwadekar of #Akshardhara Book Gallery and Vishal and Neha Pipariya of #Pagdandi participate in an enlightening discussion on starting and nurturing their bookstores in such a way that today they are an integral part of their patrons’ lives. In fact, Akshardhara won the Publishing Next Industry Awards 2017, for ‘Bookshop of the Year’, while Pagdandi is an extremely popular hangout where between sips of coffee and chai, conversations flow freely; it’s the hangout where, once you step in, you are reluctant to leave.

The Journeys

Their journeys are unique. Ramesh lost his parents when was barely three. Growing up in a village in Konkan meant crossing the river every day to attend school. The trek was so arduous that he could barely focus on his studies, and he dropped out of school before he could complete his education. But, not before he had learnt the magic of words through Chandoba, the classic Indian children’s magazine in Marathi. A job to host exhibitions for Dhavale Granthayatra drew him further into the world of books, and brought him face to face with the power of the written word. It also connected him with several eminent authors, and he knew that books and he were now inseparable. At one of the exhibitions, he met Rasika. Dhavale Granthayatra had shut shop by then, and together the duo began an uphill journey, holding their own book exhibitions, till they had enough capital to set up a permanent bookstore, Akshardhara Book Gallery, in 2001. Seventeen years down the line, it buzzes with readers, writers, and artists, and is known for the gappas (conversations) it periodically hosts on its katta.

Vishal and Neha were both bitten by wanderlust. They were backpackers who travelled through the country solo, he having worked in an IT company as manager for six years, before quitting, and she taking leave periodically to quench her thirst to explore the world. Concerned that she was travelling alone, their mutual friends introduced them to each other, ensuring Neha’s safety while travelling, now that she had a companion. By the time they returned, Vishal was broke, Neha was still working and they had fallen in love. They had also realised that they had a common love for books and shared a dream of setting up a place where people could read, write, converse, chill, share… where they would explore new pathways, and create their own Pagdandi. So, in 2013, the duo set up a concept Book Cafe, promoting conscious and alternate lifestyle choices, where the moment a person entered they would feel happy.

While Ramesh and Rasika, keeping their reader in mind, designed a bookstore where navigation would be easy, browsing comfortable, and the atmosphere friendly, Vishal and Neha focused on creating an interactive, creative and open space where one can relax and ideate over the multiple facets of life, especially the yet unexplored, and be encouraged to utilise their maximum individual potential. With adrak wali chai to warm up their hearts.

We just let our patrons be. We don’t breathe down their necks. Most people don’t even know that I’m the owner. – Ramesh Rathiwadekar

“We just let our patrons be. We don’t breathe down their necks. Most people don’t even know that I’m the owner. I do mingle freely with them, suggest titles, guide them, if they need me to,” says Ramesh. “We hold meetings every morning to keep our staff abreast of the happenings in the world of books, and news about writers and book launches, so that they can be of assistance to our patrons,” says Rasika, who also organises the events that have made the store a much frequented cultural hub.

The café helped us break even, supporting the bookstore, and allowing us to experiment. –Vishal Pipariya

Neha and Vishal ensure that the atmosphere in their Book Café is chilled out, just as they themselves would like it to be. In fact, you could find in a corner on a divan designed to relax with a book, youngsters sprawled comfortably, as they would, at home, reading and chatting over cups of chai and sandwiches. “The café helped us break even, supporting the bookstore, and allowing us to experiment,” reveals Vishal. “We have a lending library, a shelf right outside the space for free takeaway books, and one more where you could add to the pile of donated books. We curate the books that we sell, choosing rare titles, taking great care to line up the shelves with wholesome reads,” says Neha. The duo organises creative events in the nature of Book Readings, Storytelling, Music Jams, Art and Craft Workshops, Poetry sessions, Theatre workshops and Group Discussions on Social and Scientific issues making it a lively hub to bring the community together, leading to an exchange of thoughts and ideas.

Both couples firmly believe that reading is certainly not dead, that people still care about books and that all that is needed to keep the reading culture alive is some TLC. Their success mantra: Believe in yourself; the written word will do its bit.

Archana Pai Kulkarni is a Journalist, Editor, Creative Writer and Blogger. 

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