The evening buzz of Rajpur road is an attraction to some, but for me, it’s pure frustration. You know that feeling, don’t you? Some days are like that. Mad people driving around, mad people running about, mad people filled with mad urgency! Imbeciles! Sliding my twelve-year-old Santro carefully into a parking lot, or whatever that busy street preferred to call it, I know I need a break. And like I told you before, some days are just like that!
I step into Barista and order my usual. Hot chocolate with whipped cream. The room is warm with the smell of coffee and light symphonies are playing in the background. Soothing. Finally, a place where I will not be questioned.
I look at the man standing behind the counter. He’s smiling and taking orders. So cheerful. I can’t help but roll my eyes. Screw him. Let’s stare straight. The only reason I come here is this small little bookstore. This particular Barista Lavazza coffee shop holds delicately inside it one of the oldest bookstores in Dehradun: The English Book Depot.
Of course, the store has been there for much longer than this commercial coffee shop. They shared a symbiotic relationship earlier, with the bookstore being the dominant partner, brimming the coffee shop up with customers. But over the years, it’s been losing its charisma. You won’t see many people crossing those doors these days. People are more interested in instagraming pictures of the overpriced coffee they sell here. But who am I to judge? I just bought myself a hot chocolate here.
I sit down farthest from the door and closest to the book depot. They don’t seem to have any intention of bringing me my hot chocolate. I think I might while away my time at the EBD, just like always.
Hordes and hordes of books grin down at me. I could live here. An old lady sits at the reception desk and smiles feebly at me. I smile back. Nice lady. Hopping around the cute bookstore, with its wooden shelves and the smell of new books, I really can’t make up my mind about what I want to read next. Hmm.
You still have A Dance with Dragons to finish. My hopping comes to a halt.
But you can’t leave a bookstore without buying a book! That’s unforgivable.
How about a book for mom? She likes reading Paulo. I’ll buy her Brida. I pick it up and happily skid to the counter.
The old lady smiles again.
“We don’t see many kids around here anymore.”
I’m not a kid, woman. But then, everyone’s a kid for her. Tch, forgiven.
“Yeah! Book lovers are rare.”
“They sure are.” Heh! She makes me happy.
I see her feeble hands trying to scan the barcode. She looks adorable.
“For how long have you owned this bookstore?” I can see her smile from beneath the table.
“It’s been in our family for generations. I have been running it for years.” Wow.
She is placing a bookmark inside my book.
“You’re a Paulo fan?” she asks.
“I like his books, but sometimes, he gets too preachy. This is for my mom.”
She giggles. “I feel the same about him.”
Wow. How often do you meet old folks who don’t like preachy stuff, eh? This woman is cool. I have to ask her.
“Okay, honestly tell me, do you read all the books that come in your store?”
There had been one bookstore whose owner swore that he had read each and every book that came in his store. I thought he was exaggerating till he started recommending books. After that, I was awed.
“You know, child, there are only 3 ways which teach you things all through your life. One, travelling. Two, other’s experiences. And three, reading. I can’t walk that much and I have lived so much that I have my own experiences to share now. So I read. You can never really stop wanting to learn, can you?” She winked.
I am awed. Again. But she is so old. She must be in her 70’s.
“My kids wanted me to take rest now. They told me they’d handle the bookstore. It is dying, after all. People don’t read much these days.”
“That sounds awful.”
“It is. You’re the first customer I’ve had in two days. You’ve got your new age fancy gadgets to peep into. Who would want to peep into old age books now?”
She’s right. I’m lucky to have a mother who likes reading novels and was able to get me interested in this sedentary hobby. But, she is right. Look around, and you will find that most people respond with a fazed up look when they see you holding a big ass novel in your hands. They’re like, “Woah! I could never read something that huge.”
I shrug. “But holding a real book is a different feeling altogether. You don’t get that from cold screens.”
“Yes. And hence this place runs. A little rustily, but it does, nonetheless, on the fondness of the people who wish to hold a real book in their hands. You see, child, we don’t see many kids around here. My patronage, however small, is made up of the older generation.”
I smile. I feel like I’m part of some secret, highly sophisticated cult.
Hot chocolate. It must be ready. I look out, into the coffee shop, and see a man holding a cup, apparently looking for me. I look back at the lady. She nods and smiles. I pay for my book and rush to the man.
I resume my seat facing towards the bookstore and smile at the woman. She smiles back knowingly.
Sipping my hot chocolate, I wonder, what would become of the lady if the bookstore goes bankrupt? Old age home, perhaps?
She has quite a colourful life here, and that’d be a sad life indeed. And it will close down, one day or the other. And there isn’t anyone who can do anything about it.
Maybe a miracle could save it. Miracles are always saving stuff all the time, everywhere. Were it up to me, I’d make everyone wake up tomorrow with a super strong urge to curl into a warm blanket with a nice book and cup of hot chocolate. Are you listening God? But that isn’t really going to happen.
And the bookstore shall remain forever silent.
And the books shall keep forever waiting.
And the knowledge that they hold will never truly reach the ignorant masses, which will wake up tomorrow and go to a new coffee shop and click pictures of the same old coffee. Just like this dim-witted bunch of girls sitting beside me.
I should save my rage for the road. There are worse people to shout at there, with my windows pulled up of course. You didn’t really think I was going to make a life-changing decision here, do you? Hah! I’m just like you, remember? Big dreams, utopian ideologies, ceaselessly judgmental, but lacking the push. Forever inactive.
Photography By: Sarthak Dubey